Redirecting Our Steps
Cardinal Pietro Parolin
The Secretary of State on the Church and the world in Laudato Si'
The Cardinal Secretary of State delivered an address on Thursday afternoon, 2 July , at the conference "People and Planet First: The Imperative to Change Course", held at the Augustinianum in Rome and organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the International Alliance of Catholic Development Agencies. The following of which is a shortened version of the original English text.
The Encyclical itself, as the Pontiff tells us, is addressed “to every person living on this planet... [inviting them] to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (3).
This afternoon’s session is significant: “The Importance of the Encyclical Laudato Si’ for the Church and the World, in the Light of Major Political Events in 2015 and Beyond”. Many points can be raised in this perspective, above all because, as the Holy Father reminds us, “Young people [are demanding] change” (13), and this change can only highlight the “immensity and urgency of the challenge we face” (15).
In keeping with the title of today’s session, I wish to focus on three areas which help to understand the Encyclical itself: (1) the international sphere, (2) the national and local sphere, and (3) the sphere of the Catholic Church. As its point of departure my reflection on these three areas has two pressing requirements identified in the Encyclical, namely, “redirecting our steps” (61) and promoting a “culture of care” (231). The “culture of care” recalls, to some extent, the responsibility of custodianship that is being developed through the United Nations, albeit not exclusively.
Let us begin with the first of these spheres: the international framework. This calls for an ever greater recognition that “everything is connected” (138) and that the environment, the earth and the climate are “a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone” (93). They are a common and collective good, belonging to all and meant for all, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone (23; 95).
Recognizing these truths is not, however, a foregone conclusion. It calls for a firm commitment to develop an authentic ethics of international relations, one that is genuinely capable of facing up to a variety of issues, such as commercial imbalances, and foreign and ecological debt, which are denounced in the Encyclical. Nevertheless, the principal challenge that faces us, and to which our commitment is directed, is that of “needing to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference” (52).
None of this is obvious. However, as Teilhard de Chardin had already understood as far back as 1955, it can be observed that the human being, or at least a certain part of the human family, is becoming ever more aware, and capable of understanding that, “in the great game that is being played, we are the players as well as being the cards and the stakes”(Pierre Teihard de Chardin , The Phenomenon of Man, 230...; orignal in French: Le Phénomène Humain...). Such an increased consciousness brings with it a change in perspective, a “redirecting of our steps”, inspired by a “more integral and integrating vision” (141). This can be summarized by welcoming and promoting the paradigm of integral ecology so clearly outlined in Laudato Si’. That is a model dedicated to consciously responding both to “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (49), as well as to refuting the culture of individualism that leads to “an ethical and cultural decline which has accompanied the deterioration of the environment” (162). This individualism is incapable of recognizing the relationship with others: what Lévinas calls “the face of the Other”, and he reminds us that “the subject is responsible for the responsibility of the other person” (Emmanuel Lévinas ... Totality and Infinity: Essay on Exeriority...; original in French: Totalité et Infini: Essai sur l'Extériorité).
Unfortunately, what has prevented the international community from assuming this perspective can be summed up in the following observations of the Pope: its “failure of conscience and responsibility” (169) and the consequent “meagre awareness of its own limitations” (105). We live, however, in a context where it is possible to “leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress... [and] to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing and limiting our power” (78); “we have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology; we can put it at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (112). More than once I have had occasion to emphasize how the technological and operative base for promoting such progress is already available or within our reach. We must seize this great opportunity, given the real human capacity to initiate and forge ahead on a genuinely and properly virtuous course, one that irrigates the soil of economic and technological innovation, cultivating three interrelated objectives: (1) to help human dignity flourish; (2) to help eradicate poverty; and (3) to help counter environmental decay.
This virtuous course, dedicated to “redirecting our steps”, can only raise the profile of “the major paths of dialogue which can help us escape the spiral of self-destruction which currently engulfs us” (163), and overcome that “tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures” (68), which has allowed the culture of relativism and waste to catch on and be propagated in our society. We need paths of dialogue which can help us create space so that our home is truly held in common.
The forces at work in the international sphere are not sufficient on their own, however, but must also be focused by a clear national stimulus, according to the principle of subsidiarity. And here we enter into the second area of our reflection, that of national and local action. Laudato Si’ shows us that we can do much in this regard, and it offers some examples, such as: “modifying consumption, developing an economy of waste disposal and recycling... [the improvement of] agriculture in poorer regions... through investment in rural infrastructures, a better organization of local [and] national markets, systems of irrigation, and the development of techniques of sustainable agriculture” (180), the promotion of a “circular model of production” (22), a clear response to the wasting of food (cf. 50), and the acceleration of an “energy transition” (165).
Let us now pass to the third and last area: the Catholic Church. She finds nourishment in the example of Saint Francis who, as indicated from the very opening pages of the Encyclical, “lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace” (10).
What is well-known by now is the Encyclical’s call for us to reflect on “what kind of world we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up” (160). The answer which the Pope offers to this question is quite revealing: “When we ask ourselves what kind of world we want to leave behind, we think in the first place of its general direction, its meaning and its values... It is no longer enough, then, simply to state that we should be concerned for future generations. We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity” (160).
These are words which remind us once again of our responsibility, to be “responsible for the responsibility of the other”. Furthermore, “our vocation to be protectors... is not [something] optional” (217). And this requires the formation of consciences and the preparation of the necessary “leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations” (53).
The final chapter of Laudato Si’ is dedicated to education, on the basis of the fact that “many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. And thus emerges a great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge” (202), the “culture of care” capable of restoring “the various levels of ecological equilibrium, establishing harmony within ourselves, with others, with nature and other living creatures, and with God” (210).
These, then, are some clear points that can serve as guidelines for the Church and the World, in the care of our common home, in 2015 and beyond.
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10 July 2015, page 13
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