In response to the major threats to our common home pollution, biodiversity loss and especially global warming, Pope Francis has summoned us to an “ecological conversion” leading to the practice of an “integral ecology” needed to save the Earth. In Laudato Si, Francis begins his treatment of an ecological conversion by noting that some “committed and prayerful Christians” tend to ridicule this concern, while others refuse to change their habits to help fix the problem. As Christians, our relationship with Jesus Christ should guide our relationship to the natural world. Protecting “God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue not an optional or secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (n217). An authentic ecological conversion involves admitting ways we have harmed God’s creation by our actions and by our omissions. It recognizes the power of a “utilitarian mindset” and an “unethical consumerism” to blunt our “ecological awareness.” And it is rooted in a growing appreciation of the intrinsic value of God’s creation and our responsibility to care for it.
Francis places his call for an ecological conversion in the context of the long and rich tradition of Christian spirituality consistently committed to living Gospel inspired faith convictions in the real world. The pope insists that a “passionate concern for the protection of our world” cannot be “sustained by doctrine alone” but requires a “change of heart” that “encourages, motivates, nourishes and gives meaning” to all our efforts to protect the Earth and all its citizens.
For Pope Francis, ecological conversion informed by Christian faith is not an end in itself but an important catalyst for achieving an “integral ecology,” that includes an ideal moral vision to guide a world-wide effort to promote the common good of the Earth and all of its citizens. Applying his fundamental conviction that “everything is closely united,” Francis insists that “we are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.” He grounds his analysis in reality: “We are part of nature, included in it and therefore, in constant interaction with it” (n139). Thus we need “comprehensive solutions which consider the interactions within natural systems themselves and with social systems.” Concretely this means “combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”
Pope Francis sees an integral ecology in its diverse elements serving the common good in various ways: strengthening societal institutions especially the family; protecting indigenous communities from exploitation of their homelands and their distinctive cultures; keeping God’s gift of creation intact for the next generation; practicing the preferential option for the poor who suffer the most from ecological degradation; working for a more equal distribution of the world’s goods that promotes peace, stability and security for all people; protecting the cultural treasures of humanity; and developing living spaces (homes, worksites, common areas and cities) that help humanize daily life. In sum, Pope Francis has called us Christians to an ecological conversion so that we can be leaven for the world as a whole striving for the integral ecology needed to save us and our common home.
With Pope Francis we pray: All powerful God You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love that we may protect life and beauty. Encourage us in our struggle for justice, love and peace.
What concrete step can I take to facilitate my ecological conversion?
About the Author
Fr. James J. Bacik has served as a priest of the Diocese of Toledo since his ordination in 1962. He is a widely regarded theologian, writer, lecturer and pastor who served as campus minister and adjunct professor of humanities at the University of Toledo for more than 30 years. Fr. Bacik is an AUSCP member. Visit his website at frjimbacik.org.