The pope’s encyclical and the meaning of family

Categories: Guest Views


Kathy Langer, Director of Social Concerns, Diocese of Saint Cloud

Kathy Langer

As a mother and grandmother I ask what is best for the next generation

By now you probably feel that you have read all you need to about Pope Francis’ new encyclical, “Laudato Si.’” When it was released June 18, there were commentaries everywhere. Facebook was full of posts; every newspaper reported on it and everywhere one could find one more person’s remarks about it. It was a great day, full of excitement and great information.

In the midst of all these commentaries, I offer mine, from the perspective of a mother, grandmother and social justice minister. My reflection is couched in my admiration of the pope, my love of the Gospel message and my deep desire to leave a better world for my grandchildren. I am also motivated by the fact that this is the first encyclical to use gender-inclusive language.

A common home

Now that being said, let’s get to this wonderful encyclical that calls us to a renewed look at our “common home.” These words call us to open our hearts to an image that brings with it both joy and a sense of ownership and collective responsibility.

heartCreating a home, as a co-creator with God, calls for an engagement of the heart — a heart that is open to life and love, a heart full of compassion and caring. In this common home, Pope Francis writes, “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” (No. 139).

He invites us to recognize an “integral ecology” that includes both a “natural ecology,” calling for respect for the environment, our natural resources and the precious gift of Creation, and a “social ecology,” which challenges the way we respect life, treat one another, regard the poor and structure our economic and policy decisions. He tells us that when we consider ecology we need “to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (No. 49).

Once again, as Pope Francis does so well, he gives us an example of standing with those who are on the margins of society — that is, those who are hurt the most by this crisis — and he challenges the rest of the “family” to shape up! We have here a true papa who advocates for the good of the whole family and of the common home they live in.

Promoting kinship

On the day the encyclical was released, I was on my way to do a presentation on Catholic social teaching and kinship. Driving in my car,
I heard the news about the attack in the church in South Carolina, and I could not help but feel the pain of the families of the nine individuals who were killed and those terrorized by the attack.

How would they cope with such a senseless act, a hateful act of violence on their “kin”? How would they regain their sense of safety? And how could I, in this interconnected world of Pope Francis, open my heart, to this dreadful situation? I was reminded of something Mother Teresa is quoted as saying; “If we have no peace, it means that we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Kinship is the realization that we are family. Isn’t that what it’s all about? We belong to each other, and if I believe that, then how do I respond to this violence? Do I stay out of it because it happened so far away and in a church that is not Catholic? If I take the stance of Pope Francis seriously, then I have to pray, speak out and act.

I began to look for ways to act, out of respect to the victims, my ‘kin,’ and I prayed for all involved, including the shooter. Pope Francis and Mother Teresa challenged me to think more broadly about family and challenged me to act. This encyclical holds this same message.

As a mother and grandmother I ask what is best for the next generation, not just for my family, but also for the world and all of my kin.

How can I live with an open heart that cares about the kind of “common home” I am leaving for the next generation?

How can I consume less so that those living in poverty are not victims of my selfishness?

These are some of the Catholic questions given to us to ponder in this encyclical. Now what will we do about it?

Kathy Langer is the director of social concerns for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud. She can be reached at 320-229-6020 or