The pope's call to ecological conversion

In June I had the unbelievable privilege and unforgettable experience of speaking at the Vatican press conference for the launch of Pope Francis' much-anticipated encyclical on the environment.

Named "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," the encyclical draws from St. Francis' "Canticle of the Creatures," which "invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness."

Drawing on extensive evidence and consultation by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, this encyclical employs science as the tool for us to hear the cry of the earth. From this foundation, Pope Francis is unequivocal in his message that we have not treated our common home well.

When it comes to the earth, we should think of ourselves as stewards rather than owners - tenants of God, as it were. The encyclical refers us to the concept of "global commons," i.e., the tangible and intangible assets that belong to all, across all generations and necessary for our flourishing.

Examples of these include water, atmosphere, fisheries, forestry and biodiversity. The encyclical raises objection to the loss of biodiversity that forever changes our ecosystem and reminds us that diverse species are not just resources to be exploited for human purposes. These have an inherent value as "they have value in themselves." None is superfluous.

The teaching of this document is much broader than a treatise on the environment alone. It makes clear that all life on this planet is connected, bound together.

Human life is grounded in three fundamental and intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth. When one of these relationships is damaged, the others are damaged, too.

We are called to recognize the connection between how we treat the planet and how we treat the poor. As Pope Francis puts it, we do not have two separate crises, social and economic, but "one complex crisis that is both social and environmental."

The correct response, according to Pope Francis, is a true "ecological conversion."

Conversion calls for us to open our minds so as to cultivate our consciousness or acknowledgement of the scope and causes of the degradation of our environment. It also calls us to listen with our hearts and probe our conscience for how we have not cared properly for God's creation. We're also called to change our behavior, particularly in our consumption habits, to align our conduct with our new conviction. The encyclical is a rich resource for all three processes.

Ultimately, the framing question asked by Pope Francis in his encyclical is a simple one: "What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?"

This question resonates with everyone. It resonates with me as a mother, as a professional in the development sector, as a businesswoman and as a person of faith.

Woo is president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015