Take note that on Thursday of this week the Holy Father, Pope Francis, will be issuing what has to be one of the most eagerly anticipated encyclical letters in quite some time. He confirmed this himself in the course of his Sunday Angelus this past weekend.
An encyclical letter is addressed not only to the Church but also to all people of goodwill. In the one to be released this week His Holiness will address the topic that is among the most pressing for people everywhere: ecology. This is not the first time a Pope has directed his attention to environmental issues. Popes Paul VI, St John Paul II and Benedict XVI have all brought their voices and insights to bear. Now will be the moment for Pope Francis to add his contribution.
Some might wonder what a Pope would have to say about this. In fact, his is a perspective that the world needs to hear. For decades people have considered the scientific, economic and technological dimensions of the environmental question as we grapple with climate change, deforestation, desertification, rising water levels and so on. What is often absent from the discussion is that aspect which is, indeed, more than just another aspect but truly the foundation of all other reflection, namely, the moral. Since creation is God's gift, we have a moral responsibility to steward it in accord with God's purposes. More, care for the environment and the just use of the resources it provides impacts directly upon human life and the common good of all. The environmental issue is, in essence, a moral one. This is why we need to hear from the Holy Father.
To know what he will, in fact, say we need to wait for the official release of the document. What we can anticipate, though, is that he will offer the Church's unique contribution not by weighing in on particulars of scientific debate but by providing the moral principles and parameters that ought to shape our common reflection: the dignity of the human person; the priority of people - particularly the poor - over profit; the universal destination of the earth's resources; the relation of natural to human ecology; solidarity in the service of the common good and so on. These have long been pillars of Catholic Social Doctrine and I look forward to learning how the Holy Father wishes us to apply these in our current circumstances.
God be praised for the gift of all creation. By the help of His grace, may we be its faithful stewards.