I must apologize for my absence from the blog site over the last couple of weeks. It’s that I’ve been putting the finishing touches on a new book I’ve written about Pope Francis’ eco-encyclical, Laudato Si’, which I consider the most important public document of the present century.
The 150 page book is called Understanding Laudato Si’: A Discussion Guide. (It is featured along with a “Buy Now” button on the right hand side of my blog homepage. The price is $8.15 per copy.) The book is aimed at people of faith who’d like to start or participate in discussion groups about climate change as the moral issue Pope Francis calls it.
(By the way, an “encyclical” is a general letter to the church as a whole. It represents the highest most solemn form of papal teaching.)
Laudato Si’ is unique in that it comes from the pen of history’s first Global South pope. So it is shaped by the experience of the former colonies (Latin America, Africa, and South Asia). It is heavily influenced by colonial and neo-colonial exploitation.
More particularly, Laudato Si’ was written by a priest who comes from country victimized by the U.S.-supported “Dirty War” that the Argentinian Army waged against the pope’s homeland from 1976-1983. That war took the lives of at least 30,000 Argentinians – at least one bishop, many priests, nuns, and lay catechists along with union organizers, teachers, social workers and those suspected of supporting the democratic resistance.
No other pope has had such “Third World” experience of aggression at the hands of the United States. No other pope has been influenced directly by liberation theology – which has centralized the concept of “preferential option for the poor” that marks Francis’ papacy.
Read in that light, Laudato Si’ presents the world with understandings of climate change, economics (especially capitalism), history, theology, and church that are uniquely “Global South” rather than the European understandings that shaped the visions of Francis’ predecessors. All the other commentaries I’ve seen have overlooked those differences.
I’ve shared drafts of the book with friends. One wrote: “Your book should be in the hands of every bishop and priest and parish, as well as to the pundits we daily read and hear in the mass media.”
The great African-American feminist scholar, bell hooks, commented: “You make difficult concepts and theories accessible. The work itself embodies the spirit of inclusion you write about so eloquently. Bravo!!!”
A priest-activist working in the Appalachian region wrote: “Congratulations, this is a winner! . . . You wrote an amazing book. I read it and I remembered. I thought about it and I learned. I critiqued it, and I grew. . . Let’s see how we can spread the analysis.”
I’m hoping that my book will be used this Lent as a discussion guide in parishes throughout the United States. It is currently under review by my own diocese of Lexington, Kentucky.
In my own parish, St. Clare’s here in Berea, we’ve made the following proposal for dealing with Pope Francis’ call to action. Perhaps readers of this blog might implement something similar in their own parishes:
Lenten Program, St. Clare Church, Berea, Kentucky (Wed. Feb. 10- Sat. Mar. 26, 2016)
The St. Clare Peace and Social Justice Committee proposes a Lenten adult education program that will centralize the Papal Encyclical, Laudato Si’. Participants in the six week program will pursue the following goals:
- Acquaintance and familiarity with the content and historical background of Laudato Si’.
- In the light of that encyclical:
- Sharpening awareness of the environmental crisis itself and of capitalism’s role in that predicament, as well as the parts played by U.S. policy, Global South theology, and the Catholic Church.
- Rethinking the elements of each person’s Catholic faith including understandings of God, Jesus, church, and salvation.
- Re-evaluating the relationship between a reconsidered Catholic faith and the environmental crisis.
- Identifying practical ways of coping with the environmental crisis in the personal, familial, parochial, national and global dimensions of life.
To achieve these goals, each participant will:
- Adopt as a Lent 2016 practice, participation in six 90 minute group sessions discussing issues raised by Laudato Si’.
- Sign up in advance for program participation. (Non-obligatory “interest cards” will be found in each pew on Ash Wednesday and on the First Sunday of Lent.)
- Before each meeting, read and reflect on the discussion guide adopted by the group (either the one to be provided by the diocese or Rivage-Seul’s Understanding Laudato Si’: A Discussion Guide).
- Actively participate in the discussions.
Feb 14: View the first half of “Time to Choose” followed by a disciplined discussion. (“Time to Choose is a new 90 minute film by Oscar winner, Charles Ferguson. The film makes the case that we can combat climate change; that we have the tools and the knowledge to begin doing so right now.) (Assignment: Read Discussion Guide, pages 1-30)
Feb 21: View second half of “Time to Choose.” Discuss in the light of the Discussion Guide’s summary of Laudato Si’. (Assignment: Read Discussion Guide, pages 31-50)
Feb 28: View lecture by economist, Richard Wolff on capitalism and the environment. Discuss the pope’s approach to economy facilitated by Chapter Two of the Discussion Guide. (Assignment: Read Discussion Guide, pages 51-82).
Mar 6: View the first half of “This Changes Everything” (a new 90 minute film by Naomi Klein based on her book by the same name). Discuss in the light of Pope Francis’ “preferential option for the poor” as explained in Discussion Guide (Assignment: Read Discussion Guide, pages 83-100)
Mar 13: View second half of “This Changes Everything” in the light of liberation theology as explained in Discussion Guide. (Assignment: Read Discussion Guide, pages 101-140).
Mar 20: Discuss the Church as Caravan and practical responses to Laudato Si’.