When Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home’” was published in 2015, the document brought Salesian Father Joshtrom Kureethadam to tears.
“I was filled with joy,” said Kureethadam, the coordinator of the sector of ecology and creation at the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Human Development. “It was such a wonderful gift, not just to the church, but to the world.”
The encyclical was a long time coming, said Kureethadam, who originally hoped that Pope Benedict XVI might release such a document. When it did come, it was in line with the statements on the environment made by Benedict and Pope St. John Paul II, but also marked a significant change, starting the language of its title, he said.
“For decades, we spoke of stewardship of creation,” he said. “Pope Francis goes beyond that. Stewardship is of things. Pope Francis spoke of care. In families, we care for each other. Pope Francis spoke of our common home because we are a common family.”
Pope Francis drew the connections between God, creation and humanity beautifully in “Laudato Si’”, Kurathadeem said. The encyclical — the longest ever written — draws on high-level science and is addressed to all people, because the earth is, for all of us, our common home.
Kureethadam, who had long been thinking and praying about the theology of the care of creation, and all of the ways it connected to the care of humanity, this year published a commentary on the encyclical, “The Ten Green Commandments of Laudato Si’”(Liturgical Press, 2019).
He spoke at several events in the Chicago area, including a May 31 presentation at DePaul University that was sponsored in cooperation with the archdiocese’s Office of Human Dignity and Solidarity.
His book, he said, is divided into three main sections based on the “see-judge-act” methodology often used in spirituality and moral theology, and the commandments follow the chapters of the encyclical.
The first sections are devoted to seeing the peril facing the earth, not just from climate change but also pollution, loss of biodiversity, depletion of natural resources and the scarcity of fresh water; and to the suffering of the poor, who are affected first and worst by ecological damage.
The next sections — judging — explain that creation itself is a statement written by God, telling us who God is, and to abuse that creation is a sin. “We evaluate the situation of our common home not from a neutral perspective, but from a theological one. We need tears. We need to repent of the way we have treated our common home.”
The last five commandments have to do with what must be done, or acting. They include developing an integral ecology (“We are related to God, related among ourselves and related to Mother Earth”); learning a new way of living on the earth; educating people toward ecological citizenship; embracing an ecological spirituality; and cultivating ecological virtues, such as work, justice, sobriety and humility.
“We think the more things we have, it is a sign of God’s blessing,” Kureethadam said. “That is not true. Jesus lived as a poor person. Look at our saints. Mother Teresa lived as a poor person.
All those steps must be undertaken at the personal level, in communities such as parishes and schools and on a wider cultural level, he said.
As more news comes out showing that the world is heating up faster than scientists thought even a few years ago and that species are dying out more quickly than originally believed, Kureethadam urged Catholics to live and work in hope.
“We believe it’s God’s work,” he said. “God is the main gardener. We need to collaborate with him.”
What also gives him hope is the leadership young people have taken on ecological issues.
“We need to stand with them,” he said. “We also need to listen to indigenous communities. We need to sit at their feet and learn from them.”
People around the world are working to solve ecological problems, Kureethadam said.
“From where I am at the Vatican, we see and hear about thousands and thousands of initiatives around the world, people coming together to care for our common home,” he said. “We need a people’s movement. It’s too important to leave to politicians. We need everyone on board."
Parishes and schools across the Archdiocese of Chicago will join with churches around the world in observing the “Season of Creation” from Sept. 1 to Oct. 4.
For Catholics, climate change is more than a political issue. The care of creation is a moral obligation, said Andrew Panelli, a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Orland Hills, and Catholics must both take action in their own lives and advocate for government and industry steps to slow the warming of the earth.
Young people attending World Youth Day called attention to the world's environmental problems, issuing what they called a "manifesto" for the "care of the common home."