Local Catholics reflect on themes, messages in Pope Francis’ letter

Image By Barbara Simon-Johnson/Communications Office - Diocese of Saint CloudBy Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

Now that the initial environmentally-safe dust has settled following the June 18 release of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’,” people around the globe have begun to weigh in on its contents.

In his letter, Pope Francis asks for new dialogue on “shaping the future of our planet.” The Visitor gathered first impressions of the document from a seasoned priest with geology and biology degrees, a wife and mother of three, a gravel pit-owning deacon and a more recently ordained priest.

• Father LeRoy Scheierl, pastor of St. Paul Parish and St. Peter Parish, St. Cloud

As a priest who has degrees in both earth science and biology, Father Scheierl said he has always seen God’s fingerprint in nature. He was most impressed with how the document refers to the earth as “our home,” “God’s art” and “God’s precious book.”

“Pope Francis explains, in the biblical understanding and context, how human ecology and our earth’s natural ecology are intertwined and interdependent,” Father Scheierl said. “What we do in one affects the other as well. Our relationship with God, our self, our neighbor and our environment are one.”

Father Scheierl said that protection of the environment is a universal concern, “not just for Christians but for all faith traditions and even for those who doubt any existence of God. “My hope is that all who read this encyclical will see the connections both in biblical/philosophical terms as well as socio/economic/political structures when it comes to protecting our earth’s environment.”

Father Scheierl, who plans to preach on this encyclical in his parishes, said there is something everyone can do to help.

“This includes not only raising our level of awareness, but we can also have positive effects on our environment by simply being less wasteful, by recycling our trash, even by picking up trash that is not our own. By the grace of God, we can all be part of the solution and live a more harmonious life with ourselves and with our planet.”

• Catie Daly, member of Holy Cross Parish, North Prairie

Thirty years ago, Daly moved to Minnesota for the clean water its lakes offered. Now she says she is worried about pollution and what is
happening to the environment. “Pope Francis’ encyclical is coming at a good time,” she said. “We need to be talking about the difficult
issues that affect everybody.”

For years, Daly noticed changes in ponds near her home. She tried to talk with others in her community about chemical runoff, but she says now many of them won’t talk to her at all.

“This isn’t just a problem for me,” she said. “It’s a problem for all of us. It is not a time to look away, it is a time to turn toward each other and figure out how we can all be stewards of the land that God gave us.

“We, as Catholics, have a huge ‘treasure chest’ in our faith tradition that teaches us to be good stewards — God’s word in the Scriptures, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and the sacraments that give us the grace to carry these things out,” she said. “We just need to open the box.”

On her 20-acre hobby farm near Royalton, Daly does what she can for herself, her family and her neighbors, like growing her own food, raising grass-fed sheep and chickens, and not using herbicides. She suggests that others can plant something as small as a tomato plant, even if they live in a small home or apartment.

“I don’t have all the solutions, but if everybody would do a little something every day, it would start to make a difference.”

• Father Matthew Crane, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Bertha, Christ the King Parish, Browerville, and St. Joseph Parish, Clarissa

Father Crane has a different perspective on how to tackle the issues raised in the encyclical. “Two words: marriage prep,” he said.

“Couples we are preparing today may not be very open, at least at first, to basic morals surrounding human sexuality, but they have been trained by many, many Earth Days to be open to respecting the environment. We can use the encyclical to show that the same principles demanding respect for the environment also demand respect for human life, the use of natural family planning as opposed to toxic ‘medicines,’ and the selfless as opposed to selfish purpose of marriage.”

Father Crane said that, while Pope Francis did not depart from the typical pattern of encyclicals by quoting from his predecessors, he does seem to rely more heavily than usual on the writings of the various bishops’ conferences.

“It makes sense, but the novelty of this move suggests a concrete application of Francis’ desire to make the local churches more robust and a more complete experience of Catholicism,” he said. “Francis demonstrates the pastoral approach of ‘meeting people where they are at.’ ”

Father Crane said the pope is “inviting people to consider even their bodies, complete in their masculinity or femininity, as a part of the environment to be received as a gift from the hand of the Creator, just as we might appreciate a river, a sunset or the lordly Ivory-billed woodpecker.”

Father Crane said Pope Francis is clear that the same principles that motivate responsible environmental stewardship also motivate respect for human life from conception to natural death, respect for the definition of marriage written into the very shape of the human body and respect for private property.

• Deacon Mark Stenger, member and deacon of Sacred Heart Parish, Dent

For Deacon Stenger, this issue hits close to home. As owner and operator of a gravel mine that depletes the earth’s finite natural resources, and as a deacon for the St. Cloud Diocese, this encyclical reminds him that he has a responsibility to God and to all that God has given him.

“What I was most impressed with is how well Pope Francis has taken what has been traditionally a political issue and has connected it with our responsibility to care for God’s creation,” he said. “He has challenged Catholics and the entire world to purposefully look at the problem of environmental degradation through the lens of Scripture, through moral and ethical foundations and our responsibility to care for and offer justice for all of God’s people.”

Deacon Stenger likes how the pope calls out the wealthy and environmentally rich countries of the world to be responsible stewards “not only of natural resources, but also he calls us out on our responsibility to share our gifts from God,” he said.
The encyclical has caused him to look at how his own household consumes energy, the kind of energy that is consumed and the sustainability of that energy as well as its effect on the natural world.

“My hope is that this encyclical will open a dialogue as Pope Francis has asked for. As he has mentioned, this is a complex and diverse issue that is shaping the future of our planet, and all voices need to be heard in this dialogue.”


Pope’s practical tips for helping the environment

Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” is a call for global action as well as an appeal for deep inner conversion.

Here are some of the pope’s suggestions, with references in parentheses to their paragraphs in the encyclical:

• Reduce, reuse, recycle. Preserve resources, use them more efficiently, moderate consumption and limit use of non-renewable resources. (22, 192)

• Promote green construction with energy efficient homes and buildings. (26, 180)

• Put an end to “mental pollution.” Think deeply, live wisely, love generously. (47)

• End the tyranny of the screen, information overload and distractions. Watch out for media-induced melancholy and isolation. Cultivate real relationships with others. (47)

• Get down from the ivory tower and stop the rhetoric. Get to know the poor and suffering; it will wake up a numbed conscience and inspire real action. (49)

• Stop blaming problems on population growth. The real threat is excessive consumerism and waste. (50)

• Be consistent. Pro-life, environmental and social justice movements are all connected. Protecting vulnerable species must include the unborn, endangered animals and the exploited. (91, 120)

• Use technology to solve real problems and serve people, helping them have more dignity, less suffering and healthier lives. (112)

• “Business is a noble vocation.” Create jobs that allow for personal growth, stability, living out one’s values. (124-128)

• Listen to, protect lands of and involve indigenous peoples. The disappearance of cultures is even more serious than losing a species. (145)

• Provide essential services to rural areas. (154)

• Accept and care for the body God gave you. Value sexual differences and your own gender. (155)

• Less is more. Stop needless consumption. (193, 203, 222, 211)

• Plant a tree. Take mass transit. Car pool. Turn off the lights when you leave the room. Chilly? Wear a sweater. Little things add up. (211)

• Moms and dads: teach kids to use things properly; to respect, take care of others; to ask permission politely; to say, “Thank you;” to control temper; to ask forgiveness; share. (213)

• Go to Sunday Mass; receive the sacraments; encounter God in everything; rest on Sundays. (233-237)

— Catholic News Service
You can find a link to the full text of the encyclical at www.vatican.va, click on “encyclicals” and then “Laudato Si’.”