“The Holy Father addresses his words not to the ‘bishops of the world,’ as most encyclicals do, but, rather, ‘to all people on the planet,’” the Bishop’s statement reads. “The urgency of his message at this particular time in the history of the Church and the world cannot be overstated.”
In an appeal for the worldwide audience to read the encyclical with an “open heart” the day before it was released, Pope Francis discussed the encyclical’s focus on the care of creation and the need to better protect a damaged earth.
“This common ‘home’ is being ruined and that harms everyone, especially the poorest,” Pope Francis said June 17, adding that he sought to appeal to a sense of personal “responsibility, based on the task that God gave human beings in creation: ‘to cultivate and care for’ the ‘garden’ in which he settled us.”
According to Catholic News Service, the Pope has characterized the encyclical as being part of the Church’s social teaching, and observers have noted that the letter is intended not to be a technical document about environmental issues, but rather “a pastoral call to change the way people use the planet’s resources so they are sufficient not only for current needs, but for future generations.”
Bishop O’Connell explained, “Pope Francis writes, not as a scientist or a politician, not for idealists on the left or right of the political spectrum, but, rather, as a pastor, the world’s pastor, who seeks to lift up for everyone’s careful consideration a compelling moral message imbedded in care for the world around us.”
The Bishop noted that the Pope relied on the advice and findings of scientists and environmentalists in drafting the letter, and that his writings benefit from their expertise.
“He confronts head on the vexing issues of pollution, global warming and climate change; the quality of available supplies of fresh drinking water; biodiversity and caring for the earth’s ecosystems and a host of other environmental concerns,” Bishop O’Connell wrote in his statement.
Even before the encyclical was released, critics emerged with arguments seeking to discredit the Holy Father’s words – with some mounted on the position that such areas are beyond the purview of the Church. That argument, Bishop O’Connell writes, is flawed.
“They are topics that cannot be separated from a genuine moral understanding of our ‘common home’ and its appropriate use,” he wrote. “Reason and faith must work together in this effort as they must in other areas of human endeavor.”
Bishop O’Connell noted that the letter will be one of great importance, and signals an evolving task confronting the Pope and the Church as a whole.
“This is a landmark encyclical and will be a significant part of Pope Francis’ legacy, although his work is far from finished,” the Bishop said, adding, “We should heed now the words of St. Augustine from long ago: ‘Tolle et lege. Pick up and read!’”