At five-year mark for ‘Laudato Si,’ Vatican offers a ‘users guide’

At five-year mark for ‘Laudato Si,’ Vatican offers a ‘users guide’

A cormorant is seen on the Anacostia River April 26, 2020, near Bladensburg, Md. Dioceses and other organizations around the world are planning to mark the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis's encyclical on care for creation with online events and prayers during Laudato Si' Week May 16-24, 2020. (Credit: Chaz Muth/CNS.)

To mark the 5-year anniversary of the publication of Pope Francis’s eco-encyclical, Laudato Si, the Vatican Thursday published a “users guide” for parishes and public officials on how to implement the document.

ROME – To mark the five-year anniversary of Pope Francis’s eco-encyclical, Laudato Si, the Vatican Thursday published a “users guide” for both parishes and public officials on how to implement the document, including such concrete measures as a balanced diet, carpooling to reduce energy consumption, recycling, and “drip-by-drip” irrigation to curb water waste.

The document also calls on legislators and governments to adopt eco-friendly policies, such as enshrining water as a “universal human right” and promoting international efforts to protect vulnerable ecosystems such as the Amazon and the Congo River Basin.

In keeping with Pope Francis’s view of “integral ecology,” the document also advocates for poverty relief, family-friendly policies to combat a “demographic winter,” prison and healthcare reform, and the protection of human life from conception to natural death.

The text also touts several steps within the Vatican City State to become more “green,” including discontinuing the use of toxic pesticides and recycling the water from the famed Vatican fountains.

Presented June 18 and titled, “On the Path to Caring for the Common Home: Five Years after Laudato Si,” the lengthy 220-page document – longer than Laudato Si itself – is an initiative of the Vatican’s department for Integral Human Development and is the product of an inter-departmental “Table” on integral ecology established after Laudato Si’s publication in  June 2015.

Drafting also involved other Vatican institutions responsible for issues covered by the encyclical, as well as some bishops’ conferences and other Catholic entities.

In the introduction, the document says the world is currently being “shaken” by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, “which has caused tens of thousands of deaths and is changing our lifestyles by putting the economic systems of our societies at risk.”

“The health emergency, loneliness and isolation resulting from measures to combat contagion have suddenly placed us before our fragility as finite creatures and calls us to discover or rediscover what is essential in our lives,” it says, insisting that in light of the pandemic, care for the poor and the environment “can no longer be attended to with indifference.”

Consisting of two chapters dedicated to Education and Ecological Conversion and Integral Ecology and Integral Human Development, the text is directed toward local churches, parish communities, public representatives and average faithful.

It covers topics addressed in Laudato Si such as education; the dignity of human life; interfaith and ecumenical dialogue; work; finance; deforestation; food, water and energy; the economy; healthcare and communications, offering both a reflection on passages from the encyclical on each of the topics mention and suggested action points based on an educative and pastoral perspective.

Also included in the text is a list of different steps the Vatican City State has taken to become greener and more environment friendly. Suggestions made in the action points include creating more opportunities to reflect on creation, specifically as it is described in the Bible.

Readers are also encouraged to “defend the family” and all human life, “from conception to natural death,” and to reflect on the concept of a “sin against human life” as it applies to the poor, the unborn, the sick and the elderly.  States are encouraged to promote intelligent family policies that counter “the so-called ‘demographic winter’, especially in the west.”

The document focuses heavily on education, insisting that at every stage of learning children and adolescents be exposed to nature, carry out projects based on the environment and are informed about issues such as poverty, food and water shortage, exploitation and challenges that women often face.

University students are encouraged to propose alternative cultural models and study the “theology of creation,” including a reflection on the concept of a “sin against creation.” Intergenerational exchanges are encouraged as a way to counter the ‘throwaway culture’ as it applies to all members of society, including children, adults, elderly and creation.

Catechists are encouraged to include portions of their programs dedicated to creation, focusing on the first part of the Nicene Creed and the notion that “creation” is different than saying, “nature.” Churches are encouraged to create opportunities to work with other denominations in joint projects, initiatives, and prayer events dedicated to caring for creation.

The text also appears to take a swipe at journalists and critical reporting of Laudato Si and climate change, suggesting that formation courses be offered to journalists to give them “clear, complete and correct” information on the encyclical, and that “a culture of truth” be developed among the press “so as to counter the spread of misleading news created to deny the existence of the environmental crisis.”

Investments in small-scale food production and support for rural communities are encouraged. The document also urges better care for animals in slaughterhouses and encourages readers to have a balanced diet.

Offering numerous suggestions to curb water shortages while also assuring that there is enough for both food and hygienic needs, the text encourages people at all levels of society to promote the idea that water is a “fundamental universal right” and that it must be accessible at reasonable prices.

Much like Laudato Si, the document urges people to use environment friendly energy sources and energy-efficient materials, as well as less pollutive methods of transportation, such as bicycles or carpooling. Renewable energy sources, it says, must be sold at “accessible” prices.

The text encourages support for transnational projects such as initiatives aimed at protecting the Congo River Basin and the Great Green Wall in the Sahara desert, and emphasizes the need for better preparation for natural disasters.

In terms of the economy, the document says it must be based on the person rather than profit, and argues for recycling natural resources such as bioenergy, biofuel and compost. Projects aimed at cleaning oceans and beaches, as well as investments in sustainable infrastructure, are to be encouraged, it says.

Efforts must also be made to expose the “informal economy,” which often leads to exploitation, and to ensure dignified work with “just salaries” for both men and women, the document says, criticizing jobs that keep parents away from their families for long periods of time.

Motherhood should also be valued in the workplace, it says, insisting that the social and economic value of motherhood should be protected, “placing the importance of family relationships at the center of the economic system, rather than just individuals.”

Banks and investment companies are encouraged to adopt and adhere to a clear system of ethics, avoiding environmentally harmful investments and sanctioning illegal activities.

Cities ought to be clean, energy-efficient and helpful toward the poor, the document says, suggesting that church structures and local institutions that work with the poor, including migrants and refugees, be supported.

A fundamental rethinking of the prison system is also suggested, particularly in terms of punishments for parents and first-time offenders. In terms of healthcare, the text urges an investment in diagnosis and care for unborn children with malformities or illnesses, “rather than promoting the diagnosis in view of selection and elimination.”

Promotion of “an appropriate education in affection and sexuality to form respect for one’s own body and that of others,” is also encouraged, as are formation programs that help young people in particular to better understand “the value of sexual complementarity, fertility and conceived human life.”

Healthcare workers, the text says, should be educated in matters of conscience, and palliative care ought to be promoted.

The document also encourages raising awareness about policies and technologies that combat air pollution and climate change, with special attention to the Amazon region, as well as the development of a clear definition of a “climate refugee,” and the adoption of measures to ensure they have the necessary legal and humanitarian protections.

Highlighting the Vatican’s own efforts to promote more environment friendly practices, the document mentions several steps that have been taken within the Vatican City State to save energy and water.

Among these steps is the development of a differentiated waste collection system for the various offices and departments in the Vatican, with recycling for materials such as paper and plastic, and the proper disposal of materials such as oil, tires, batteries and hospital waste.

A new closed-circuit water system was installed which recycles water from the fountains inside Vatican City, a new irrigation system was designed, and, according to the document, in 2016 a new dispensing system was installed in the cafeteria for Vatican employees allowing them fill glasses rather than take bottles.

In terms of green areas in the Vatican Gardens and likely the Vatican farms in Castel Gandolfo, harmful products were eliminated, the document said, and a purification system installed that avoids toxic pesticides. Crop rotation is also being practiced.

According to the text, energy consumption in the Vatican has also become more sustainable through steps such as LED lighting systems, light sensors which regulate the intensity of light based on the natural lighting of a room and the installation by Benedict XVI of solar panels on the large Paul VI audience hall.

Automated lighting systems that shut off when there is no movement have also been installed, the document says, noting that as of 2018 a new lighting system in the Sistine Chapel has saved roughly 60 percent in energy costs while also slowing down the aging of Michelangelo’s frescoes.

New lighting in St. Peter’s Square has also cut energy costs by 70-80 percent, it said, and highlighted ecumenical and global initiatives such as the Sept. 1 World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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