Pope Francis’s Laudato Si is a groundbreaking publication for our time; a kind of ‘Magna Carta’ from the Church to society! Continuing a practice starting with Pope John XXIII in Pacem in Terris in 1963, Pope Francis addressed Laudato Si to ‘All people of good will’. The content of this encyclical needs little elaboration, interpretation, exegesis or paraphrasing. Its succinct, down-to-earth and readable text speaks to a broad range of ‘people of good will’ through the mind, heart, conscience, and soul. However, it would help the encyclical to be more impactful if it had a much broader dissemination and application for people and institutions across numerous social milieus.
Dissemination and Diverse Application of Laudato Si
Laudato Si has shaped and transformed my conviction, attitude, mind-set, and deep consideration of relationships in and between the environmental and social domains and my personal utilization of both public and private goods. My teenage daughter read Laudato Si with ease when I persuaded her to do so and we have since had useful discussions on her perspectives. I am looking forward to her return home from high school on holidays so that I can learn from her about application of Laudato Si in a public boarding school environment.
As a social and development worker for the Church, I am constantly exploring other spaces and arenas for the dissemination and application of Laudato Si. Recently, as part of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference advocacy against land grabbing in Ghana, we held a two-day policy dialogue meeting with governmental actors on this subject. Caritas Ghana’s report—Unmasking Land Grabbing in Ghana; Restoring Livelihoods; Paving Way for Sustainable Development Goals (available at www.caritas-ghana.org)—which was the basis for the policy engagement, considered (in chapter 2) the menace of land grabbing from the lens of Laudato Si. I was amazed at the number of government officials—Catholic and non-Catholic—who requested copies of Laudato Si. Caritas Ghana had intended to distribute only a few copies as gifts to key functionaries at the event. However, the demand for copies provided us the opportunity to disseminate Laudato Si on the second day of the event as well.
Laudato Si is also central for Caritas Ghana’s advocacy strategy to help the country implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We are about to publish an assessment report on Ghana’s readiness to implement the SDGs framework. At a national validation meeting on the report with representatives of government ministries, departments and agencies, civil society organisations, university researchers and intergovernmental organisations, we again demonstrated how principles that Pope Francis invokes in Laudato Si are essential to implementing the SDGs framework. The principles of leave-no-one-behind, inclusion, participation, policy coherence and respect for ecology and environment aligned well with this framework.
Another example of such dissemination and application of this message involving the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference occurred during the group’s 2016 Plenary Assembly, which just concluded in Ghana’s Northern Region city of Tamale. The theme was ‘Reconciliation with God, Humanity and Nature in the Year of Mercy’. Participants devoted the whole of 11 October to issues related to integral human development and public policy in Ghana. Notable issues they discussed included the phenomenon of land grabbing, ecology, national cohesion and peace, the upcoming general elections in December, and human security. In all these discussions, Laudato Si was at the centre of the reflections and thus provided an opportunity to disseminate its message. The text of the culminating communiqué (available at www.caritas-ghana.org) amply demonstrates the centrality of the teaching of Laudato Si for the bishops.
This post has presented concrete examples of ways for Laudato Si truly to be a message to all people of good will. Laudato Si will benefit from application and dissemination in diverse contexts to develop creative responses to today’s social and environmental questions. The encyclical reflects Pope Francis’s plain-spoken approach to the relevant issues: the ‘signs of the times’. The availability of translations of the document into multiple languages broadens such access and opportunity. There is no need for those who distribute it or those who read it to overthink its direct moral appeal and factual exposition; what will be most helpful will be for all reciprocally to bring to the dialogue the very qualities that Pope Francis models in this text and his leadership generally: good will, honesty, and care. Perhaps, going forward, the compilation of a compendium of case studies of Laudato Si’s application in diverse and varied contexts could be a befitting gift to Pope Francis on the fifth anniversary of its publication in 2020.