Ecology encyclical and “far away” Churches – Commentary, Hector Welgampola 

Ecology encyclical presents collegial wisdom of “far away” Churches

Hector Welgampola

Laudato Si cover

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Quite unsurprisingly, Laudato Si (Praise be to you), has taken the world by storm. Its content and ecclesial nuances have taken a definitive stand for the welfare of all forms of planetary life.  

As the most recent social encyclical, it is a groundbreaker, even though categorized with Rerum Novarum and other seminal documents of Catholic social doctrine. And those documents dealt mostly with issues that concerned the Western hemisphere. Like other encyclicals, they too were addressed to bishops and other Church leaders, although their salutations did often include a mention of “ to all men and women of good will.”  

As instruments of the Church’s teaching authority, they were grounded in the Scriptures and Tradition. An occasional mention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as in Saint John Paul’s Centesimus Annus was an exception. Dante’s Divine Comedy was quoted by the same pope in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater. Apart from following suit quoting Dante, Pope Francis’s Laudato Si also quotes Patriarch Bartholomew and Sufi mystic Ali Al Khawas as well. 

But there is much more to the new encyclical than its content and genre of documentation.While wading through traditional gateways of encyclicaling, Pope Francis new encyclical makes a subtle shift.While inviting all humanity to a dialogue about our shared home, the document engages the wider Church in a new dimension of ecclesial magisterium. That futuristic move once more reiterates the Holy Father’s prophetic streak as an innovator.   

As noted earlier, in response to varied needs and circumstances, encyclicals have grown as instruments of papal teaching. Especially in more recent times, they have tended to articulate the primacy of the Petrine office as supreme teaching authority.It is no surprise that Pope Francis, who prefers collegial consultation to authoritarian imposition, should see a need to broadbase the paradigm of encyclicaling. In a Spirit-led move, the innovative pope has reached out to the people of God worldwide for the wisdom of the “diaspora” Churches. And beyond doubt, the Spirit must hover over him. 

Especially, as a product of Puebla, Medellin and Aparecide, the Holy Father would fail Churches worldwide if this encyclical put a lid on his home Church’s passion for the environment. After all, how could that document ignore the pain of a continent raped and plundered by industrial conglomerates? Apart from reflecting the thinking of Aparecide, the document refers to statements by Bolivian, Brazilian, Dominican, Mexican, Paraguayan and Patagonian bishops.  

These and other agonies of oppressed peoples have been cited from Africa too. In particular, the pope had not forgotten the African outcry against corrupting foreign aid heard at the recent Synod. Asian voices from the FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences) and countries like Japan and the Philippines have been enhanced by echoes from Churches in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United States. 

This encyclical will go down in Church history as a genuine effort to integrate voices and values of the worldwide Church. And as the Spirit discerns, may it help evolve a collegial magisterium that resonates the pastoral wisdom and catholicity animating God’s people at the grassroots worldwide. 

Hector Welgampola

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

 

 

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