By Caroline Smith
Attendees at a recent talk by Irish eco-theologian Father Sean McDonagh were told that Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si marked a significant shift in Catholic social teaching, and offered a new vision of interaction between human beings and the rest of creation.
Approximately 100 people attended the lecture at the Redemptorist Monastery in North Perth on Saturday, 19 November, where Fr McDonagh – a Columban missionary who has written extensively on environmental degradation – explained how Laudato Si addressed both the magnitude and urgency of this issue.
“I think it’s the most important document to have come from Rome since Catholic social teaching began in 1891 with Rerum Novarum, which means ‘new things’, by Pope Leo XIII,” he said.
“It’s an extraordinary presentation of the contemporary ecological issues facing the planet. It’s also a very evangelical document: it’s the kind of document that if someone asks you, ‘What are the major challenges in the first part of the 21st century?’ they are contained within this document.”
Fr McDonagh explained that the encyclical was the first example of theological teachings which addressed these challenges together, including climate change and its effect on the poor, the destruction of biodiversity, water and air pollution, the impact of extractive industries and waste.
He also said that the text broke new ground by referencing past and present religious figures who had advocated for the environment, from Saint Francis of Assisi to Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, who has described acts of ecological destruction as ‘sins’.
By including this, Pope Francis introduced a new kind of Christian morality: one which calls on the faithful to consider environmental issues as key responsibilities, he said…