Cardinal Cupich

Archbishops Remarks For Press Conference On The Environmental Encyclical Laudato Si

June 29, 2015

This is a watershed moment for the church, for humanity and for the planet, which Pope Francis calls our common home. It’s time for the church to be bold — to speak about major issues — and to achieve a new level of relevance in people’s lives.

We may not know all that science has to learn about climate change, but we do know enough to realize it is time to act. One need only refer to the footnotes of the encyclical to become convinced that this is a substantial document that relies on many sources of wisdom. I would proudly note that he cites the late esteemed scholar Paul Ricouer, who taught at our University of Chicago from 1970-1985.

Pope Francis speaks of a moral imperative because it is an unmistakable fact that our environment is in peril. Laudato Si’ is nothing less than a call to preserve full human dignity. Our faith dictates that we have to care about and for humankind and we can’t do that without caring for the earth, our common home.

In short, we see the assault on the environment as a fundamental matter of right and wrong.

Why is Pope Francis choosing this moment to be clear about the church’s views?

What does he add to the discussion? First, the pope makes clear he is addressing not just church members or any particular country, but he is inviting each person on this planet to become informed, to begin a discussion and to take action to protect and repair our common home.

Second, the pope clearly identifies the ecological crisis as essentially a spiritual problem. The rupture of the relationship between humanity and the planet is an ecological sin that requires repentance and firm purpose of amendment. The cause is the same as all sin, selfishness.

As Metropolitan John Zizioulas pointed out today, and I quote, “The pursuit of individual happiness has been made into an ideal in our time. Ecological sin is due to human greed, which blinds men and women to the point of ignoring and disregarding the basic truth that the happiness of the individual depends on his or her relationship with the rest of human beings… And it is a sin not only against the others of our own time but also — and this is serious — against future generations. By destroying our planet in order to satisfy our greed for happiness, we bequeath to future generations a world damaged beyond repair with all the negative consequences this will have for their lives.”

The pope focuses on several areas that require immediate attention. The first is the degradation of the earth. He reminds us that our common home is suffering and “falling into serious disrepair.” He refers to the destruction of the earth as a sin and reminds us the earth is “on loan from each generation to the next.”

He talks about global warming. The pope tells us the preponderance of scientific evidence supports the facts of global warming and affirms that it’s caused mainly by human activity.

The Holy Father urges us to stop the steady march to a warmer planet that will change sea levels and crop growing patterns, parch fields and promote famine, and lead to human misery on a scale yet unimagined.

He makes concrete and specific suggestions such as his call to reduce our use of fossil fuels, rely more on renewable energy sources and re-think our over-cooled and overheated homes and workplaces.

The third area he focuses on is the disproportionate impact of environmental damage on the poor who are the most vulnerable in our world. They suffer most from the degradation of the earth — they are the least protected from the increasingly violent swings of nature caused by global warming. The poor have the greatest exposure to air pollution, droughts, unsafe drinking water and the spread of diseases.

A fourth area of focus is how business is practiced. The Holy Father urges us to look beyond the profit motive — not to make it the sole consideration.

Neither should advancement and growth be attained by the use of technology without adequate reflection, especially those actions that threaten to degrade the environment and undermine the human experience of work, community and aesthetics.

The Holy Father is asking leaders in business and finance to change their practices so as to protect the earth, meet the basic life needs of all humans, and support the values of a good job, a good place to live and the opportunity to participate in a vibrant community and to re-claim family life.

A fifth area of focus is the immorality of overconsumption. The pope reminds us that “purchasing is always a moral — not simply an economic act.” He asks us to reduce the habit of “wasting and discarding.”

The facts that you like it and can afford it should not be the only reasons to buy something.

I’m reminded of three questions that Quakers were to ask themselves before buying anything: Do I want it? Do I need it? Can I do without it? Some purchases passed the first two tests. Few survived the third.

The next time you make a purchase, ask yourself: Where was this item made? What conditions produced it? What wages were paid to those who made it?

Tomorrow, I leave for Ukraine. I’m reminded that Eastern Europe is still living with the legacy of wanton environmental abuse imposed on subjugated nations so the Soviets could feed their economic engine.

Pope Francis is offering us brave thoughts today. He’s saying things that need to be said. He is pointing out actions that must be taken.

His timing is key because major global meetings on the deterioration of the earth are taking place later this year. Now, no one can be uncertain where the church stands on these issues.

I’m also here today as head of one of the largest organizations in the Chicago area. The Archdiocese has 8,000 employees, 2,700 buildings — some of which date to the Civil War — and the profound responsibility that comes with the fact that every 30 seconds someone seeks help from Catholic Charities.

We are working to improve our environmental footprint and invite others to join us.

We are reducing energy usage and retrofitting buildings — including the one we’re in today, which is nearly 100 years old.

We’ve cut our water usage and are repurposing older facilities.

In closing, it is important to remember that the encyclical is not a rhetorical or abstract dissertation. Or meant to be food only for thought. The pope is asking each of us, you and me, to take actions now — to build a worldwide culture of stewardship.

He’s asking each of us, you and me, to begin by taking small steps, for example, to avoid the use of plastic, to recycle, to not waste food and to say grace before every meal so we are mindful of its origins and of those who will not, that day, have a meal before them.

He’s asking us, you and me, to forsake our “self-centered culture of instant gratification” and to focus on more enduring values.

And finally, he’s asking us to “preserve mother earth who sustains and governs us” for our children, our grandchildren and for generations to come.

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