ROME - "Laudato Si'," the title Pope Francis chose for his
encyclical on the environment, comes from a hymn of praise by
St. Francis of Assisi that emphasizes being in harmony with
God, with other creatures and with other human beings, said
the head of the Franciscan order.
Sitting under towering trees, surrounded by potted flowers
and herbs in the garden of the Franciscan headquarters in
Rome, Father Michael Perry, minister general of the Order of
Friars Minor, sang the medieval Italian words laudato si
(praised be you) and recited the English translation of St.
Francis' "Canticle of the Creatures."
The hymn praises God and the reflection of God's glory in
"Brother Sun" and "Sister Moon," "Brother Fire" and "Sister
Water," and "our sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and
governs us, and who produces various fruits with colored
flowers and herbs."
The canticle is incomplete, though, without St. Francis'
praise of human beings "who give pardon," bear infirmity and
live in peace, Father Perry told Catholic News Service June
12. Also essential is St. Francis' embrace of "Sister Bodily
Death" as the portal to eternal life.
As airplanes flew overhead, birds chirped, butterflies
flitted around the garden and the occasional ambulance siren
sounded, the Franciscan minister general said St. Francis of
Assisi, over the course of his life, came to recognize that
"God was present everywhere and in everything."
Once a person recognizes the "divine dignity" of every
created being, Father Perry said, he or she recognizes a
responsibility to "give glory to God by respecting and caring
and promoting a sense of 'being in this together,' that life
is one and each of us brings a special contribution."
The interconnectedness of all creatures should help people
recognize that when they hoard riches and resources, they are
harming their own brothers and sisters, especially the poor,
St. Francis' canticle "is not just a flowery song about how
we should live with nature. It is challenging us to revise
our entire way of living our lives" in accordance with Gospel
values, he said. "If someone is starving somewhere in the
world, we are responsible."
The canticle is a call for people to recognize that they are
sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters to one
another, he said, "part of one family that embraces all
creation: trees, sun, rivers, wind, fire - all of these
because they all give glory to God."
While St. Francis' praise of "Brother Sun" and "Sister Moon"
has been romanticized in many ways, Father Perry said, the
obligations it carries are very realistic and concrete: to
defend human dignity, especially the dignity of the poor; to
promote dialogue and reconciliation to end war; to safeguard
the earth and all living creatures; and to learn to live with
just what one needs, not all that one wants.
Speaking before the scheduled release June 18 of the
encyclical, Father Perry said the title signals Pope Francis'
belief that the entire church and all its members must be in
solidarity with the poor, "must be about peace" and must
respect the planet.
By praising nature's harmony with God, St. Francis' canticle
helps people understand what kinds of relationships they must
have in order to live in peace and to give glory to God, he
said. Stories about St. Francis, such as the one about his
taming a wolf who was attacking the people of Gubbio, could
really be stories about how "the population was really
terrorizing itself" with family feuds, neighbors fighting and
towns battling each other for control of territory and
wealth, the Franciscan said.
As with the people of 13th-century Gubbio, so today with
climate change and drought and more violent storms, Father
Perry said, "nature is barking, nature is chasing after us,
telling us we have got to wake up. It's disturbing us; it is
not disturbing in order to threaten our lives. It is telling
us we are already a threat to ourselves. We're a threat to
the world. Nature is telling us, 'Step back from the brink
before it's too late.'"
In the work of St. John Paul II, retired Pope Benedict XVI
and Pope Francis, he said, the Catholic Church presents a
vision of "human ecology, social ecology and the natural
Focusing on just one, Father Perry said, "can lead us to
misrepresent what God wants."
While the Judeo-Christian tradition says God chose to have a
special relationship with human beings, it does not mean
human beings have a right to exploit and abuse other
creatures or the natural environment, he said.
"What happens in exploitation without limitation is that not
only is nature stripped of its dignity, which God gave it -
we cannot deny that - but we are progressively stripped of
our own dignity" as those called to care for creation, he
Father Perry said he expects Pope Francis to use his
encyclical to promote an "integral ecology," which urges
respect for the human person and God's plan for human life,
for just social relationships and for care of the natural
The point is not "to shame" those who are destroying the
earth or to disagree with the majority of scientists who say
global warming is real and is a threat, Father Perry said.
Rather, like St. Francis in warring Italian towns or in the
midst of the Crusades, "Pope Francis is trying to be the
bearer of that white flag" to promote dialogue and help
everyone reclaim their dignity as God's children called to
care for creation.
Father Perry urged not just reading the encyclical but
studying it with attention to what it is saying about the
future of the planet, about Christian discipleship and about
ways they can make a difference.