In the week’s most anticipated meeting, Pope Francis may or may not have given President Donald Trump a good-natured little jab in the midsection when he asked the first lady what she was feeding him: “Potizza?” he asked, referring to a Slovenian cake with walnuts that’s apparently a papal fave. (“Pizza? Yes,” Slovenia-born Melania Trump laughingly agreed.)
Either way, Francis also gave Trump something filling to tuck into later: a bound copy of his big, juicy 2015 work, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.”
In case Trump was just being polite when he promised to read it, here is the Cliffs Notes version of a document that’s usually referred to as the pope’s climate change encyclical but really is his unified theory of everything.
▪ Laudato huh? It’s named for, and opens with, an excerpt from “The Canticle of Brother Sun,” written by the pope’s namesake and role model, Francis of Assisi, the 13th century mystic who was born to great wealth and chose to become a beggar: Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces fruit with colored flowers and herbs.
The Sister Mother in question, the pope writes, “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor.”
▪ If you’re starting to guess that the theme of this work is that we are all connected, then this is the encyclical for you. And if you aren’t thinking anything of the kind, well, it’s for you, too. Because “faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet.”
▪ Mea culpa — and yours, too. You know who came up with what we now think of as the Big Bang theory? Sure you do, a Belgian priest named Georges Lemaitre. And you know who says climate change is anything but a hoax? The Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Its scientists also know whom to blame and how to atone: “Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases released mainly as a result of human activity.”
▪ Inequality and environmental degradation always go together: “The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating.”
▪ The market is king, of course. And will be the death of us all, if we let it, because “whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market.”
▪ Because all violence is connected, too — and he mentions everything from human trafficking and elder abuse to wearing blood diamonds or the fur of endangered species — protecting the unborn is both central to and only one small corner of what it means to be pro-life.
▪ For Francis there’s no getting around the notion that protecting “God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” There’s also much in the pope’s long letter to the world that conservatives will appreciate, for example on “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity.” And even the most committed enviro will find “Laudato Si” lovely to read and hard to live.