Pell Center

The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina is a multidisciplinary research center focused at the intersection of politics, policies and ideas.

Laudato Si’: Pope Francis and the Challenge of the Environment

The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy held a panel discussion in response to the Pope’s latest encyclical Laudato Si’, coinciding with Pope Francis’ arrival in the United States.

The event, entitled Pope Francis and the Challenge of the Environment, took place on September 23, 2015 at 7 p.m. in Bazarsky Lecture Hall.  The lecture featured five Salve Regina University professors, each hailing from a different academic area.

Dr. Craig Condella represented the department of Philosophy, Dr. Debra Curtis the department of Sociology and Anthropology, Dr. Jayme Hennessy the department of Religious and Theological Studies, Dr. Susan Meschwitz the department of Chemistry, and Dr. Chad Raymond the department of Political Science and International Relations.  Dr. Jim Ludes, the executive director at the Pell Center, moderated the discussion.

Each professor provided insight into what the encyclical means to them, and its correlation to their academic field.  Dr. Condella spoke first, remarking that “it’s a work of morality, what we are called to do – not only as Christians or Catholics, but as a global community.”  The encyclical reminds humanity that the earth is a common home amongst all peoples, and that all humans inhabiting the earth are called to be responsible for the earth’s present condition.

The encyclical focuses largely on ecological issues such as the relationship between the environment and the groups inhabiting it.  Therefore, it went deeper than just the conservation of and respect for the environment.  It included the broader picture of human dignity.  A major aspect of ecological responsibility involves caring for the poor, disadvantaged, excluded and vulnerable.

Dr. Curtis provided an anthropological view of the encyclical in addition to her personal view.  She describes the document as “One long prayer, so beautiful, so tragic,” she says, “but so beautiful.”  Curtis concluded that for the progress that Pope Francis calls for to occur, environmental awareness and action must intervene at sub-state levels in local communities.

Dr. Hennessy built upon the discussion, providing a religious and theological view of the encyclical.  By nature of the document and its author, religion relates most directly to the encyclical.  Hennessy presented a unique and touching reflection.

Hennessy described the encyclical as a vocation – a call to be better keepers of the earth, a call for worldwide care for the environment and for all of the vulnerable life, including people.

The call, she says, is also for people to have a deeper human spirit, to remember human dignity, and to not turn away and be indifferent to that human dignity.  Hennessy noted that, “the degradation of the environment cannot be separated from the degradation of humanity.” This correlation requires constant attention.

Hennessy said that the earth is a common home and a common good, and that humanity consists of common neighbors.  The care and love of the vulnerable should be no different, and no less vital than the care and love freely given to our own home and our own family.

Clearly, Pope Francis viewed the issues of the environment through a faithful lens, but they can be interpreted through different lenses. Dr. Meschwitz focused on the science in the document.  Pope Francis has an eye for science and even received a degree in chemistry according to Meschwitz. The pope’s encyclical also has the support of the pontifical scientific society.

The climate conversation is a large part of modern dialogue, and Meschwitz noted that Pope Francis “added a new dimension to the dialogue—that’s a moral dimension.”  The moral component is a strong motivator in personal changes.

Dr. Raymond regarded the encyclical as an “ecumenical statement,” and acknowledged that Pope Francis did not address the encyclical only to Catholics, but addressed it to all the people of the world.

Pope Francis’ call to action puts a complex set of issues into simple terms.  Emphasis is placed on personal transformation in order to further the connectedness of all people.  In everyday decisions, it is important to realize these connections and take into consideration the effects of actions on others.

Following the panelist’s final remarks on the encyclical, Dr. Ludes opened the conversation to the audience.  As expected, the document produced considerable discussion.

The next morning, the Pell Center broadcasted the pope’s address to Congress in Antone.  If the encyclical accomplishes what Pope Francis intended it to, the discussion and dialogue regarding the environment will not cease outside of lecture halls, and the continued discussion will produce effective, merciful, and heartfelt action.

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