Introduction of the Papal Encyclical, Laudato Si’
at the United Nations
John Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker
Directors, Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology
On June 30, 2015 a high level discussion was held marking the publication of the encyclical Laudato Si’. With over 600 in attendance Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, introduced the event. Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, welcomed the audience on behalf of Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon. The Secretary General has observed that the pope’s “moral voice is part of a growing chorus of people from all faiths and all sectors of society speaking out for climate action.” Figueres spoke of the nexus in the encyclical of morality, science, and politics noting that, “This nexus is as infrequent as it is powerful!”
Secretary Figueres then introduced the principal speaker, Cardinal Peter Turkson, who is the President of the Pontifical Academy of Justice and Peace. Pope Francis entrusted him with the initial drafting of the encyclical letter. On June 18, 2015, the day it was released, Turkson presented the encyclical at the Vatican press conference along with Metropolitan John of Pergamon from the Greek Orthodox Church. This signified the importance ecumenical relationship the pope has developed with the Greek Orthodox Church.
In his opening remarks, Cardinal Turkson, described the background of the formation of the encyclical. In 2013 Pope Francis spoke to him about an encyclical on natural and human ecology. During 2014 the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace assembled a broad team of theologians and scientists drafted an initial statement. This was sent to the Pope who reworked it consulting several Vatican agencies for their input.
Four significant points emerged from his description of the drafting process. First, Turkson’s insistence that he was not inclined to “exegesis” of the encyclical to determine where a particular term came from, or who contributed a phrase or idea. “It’s the pope’s encyclical,” he said. Many contributions are acknowledged in the footnotes, but the larger vision of the document was articulated by the pope.
Second, Turkson himself was inclined to hold the first draft from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in secreto and not talk about any of the editing or consulting process. But on the plane back from the Philippines in January 2015 Pope Francis briefly described that process to reporters on his plane. This transparency, so characteristic of Francis’ style as a religious leader, departs from the secretive process that has surrounded many prior papal documents, especially encyclicals.
Third, Turkson affirmed that the pope addresses this teaching document to all peoples and not just Catholics. The interweaving of ecological issues with social justice commitments necessarily involves the whole of humanity. In this regard Pope Francis asks, “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to the children who are now growing up?”
Finally, Turkson was quite clear in situating the encyclical not as a theological statement, a scientific report, or a policy paper. Rather, using Pope Francis’ language he described the encyclical as a “prayerful meditation.” Prayerful contemplation and meditation, however, are not only the responsibility of church leaders or episcopal bodies, but of all the faithful. In this sense, the pope is calling for deeper thought and concerted action flowing from awareness of our embeddedness in and interdependence with nature and one another.
Global Climate Change