ROME— Almost a year after the release of Pope Francis’ ecological manifesto, an Italian prelate insists that the document created an “ecological spirituality” that has nothing to do with New Age tendencies, syncretism, or pantheism.

“The sustainability Laudato Si’ speaks about is ecological, humane, and Christian,” said Italian Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi on Wednesday, during the opening panel of a conference on the encyclical and the application of an environmental agreement reached in Paris at a summit known as COP21.

According to Crepaldi, who leads the diocese of Trieste and is a former secretary of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the “ecological spirituality” Francis presents in Laudato Si’ is not about “converting to ecology,” as if “the earth, the planet, [or] the environmental balance were the reason for conversion.”

The archbishop said that even though harmful behaviors against nature call for “a conversion,” this is sometimes understood in a misleading sense, “devoid of the religious significance that the word assumes in the Christian context.”

“The object of conversion is not the water, which must be wisely used, and neither the air, which also should not be polluted, because otherwise it becomes the divinization of nature,” Crepaldi said.

“The motive for our conversion is God, which demands from us a change in the way we see creation,” he added.

Also on the panel was Hungarian Cardinal Péter Erdő of Budapest, president of the European bishops’ conference.

Erdő spoke about the “enormous challenges” the world faces on ecological issues, saying that “we don’t lose hope” because “we know that God is the Lord of the cosmos and of history.”

Yet, he said, this doesn’t mean that the Church can close its eyes and look the other way.

“We [can’t] cease to draw the attention of policy makers, the people who have some influence in the economic and industrial life and all those who use the goods that nature provides, and that scientific development and technology put at our disposal, so that the consciousness of the common good is never lost,” Erdo said.

Erdő also spoke about the need to promote a conversation which includes every actor, because the environmental challenge “affects as all.”

Echoing Francis and his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, and quoting Laudato Si’ and an encyclical from the emeritus pope, Caritas in Veritate, Erdo decried that the world is too focused on the economy and high finance, which reduces the idea of development to scientific discoveries or new technologies, and “often forgets integral development, leaving the poor at the margins.”

“Yet they are the majority of the planet’s population, billions of people,” he said quoting Francis. “These days, they are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought.”

It’s because of this attitude, Erdő said, that the Church won’t stop raising its voice in defense of those marginalized.

One of the goals of the conference, which took place in Rome’s Augustinian Patristic Institute a few feet away from the Vatican, was to urge European bishops to spread the message of Laudato Si’ and to present possible ideas to implement the encyclical at a local level.

Many Catholics, mainly the so-called “climate change sceptics,” still have reservations when it comes to the document, doubting the science behind it.

Crepaldi argued that Laudato Si’ is built upon the principles of the Church’s social teaching, meaning the doctrine on matters of social justice, involving issues of poverty and wealth, economics, social organization, and the role of the state.

Also speaking on the panel was Cardinal Peter Turkson, of Ghana, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, widely seen as the department that drafted Francis’ encyclical on creation.

Turkson spoke about the “7 c’s” with which to read Laudato Si’:

  • Continuity with the magisterium of the Church because in writing it Francis quoted the world’s bishops conferences, which are tasked with making its content known
  • Collegiality
  • Care for Creation
  • Conversation, as a dialogue with all levels of society.
  • Conversion
  • Contemplation

During the past year, Turkson said he’s traveled the world talking about Laudato Si’, visiting universities, politicians and parishes.

“Wherever I go, many ask me why priests don’t talk about this,” he said, referring to both the encyclical and, in a broader sense, to the Church’s social teaching.

“Yet there’s a priest in the diocese of Radford, close to Chicago, [who told me] that when he speaks about the Church’s social doctrine, the faithful ask him not to preach Socialism,” Turkson said.