By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
NEW YORK – Timed to mark the 4th anniversary of Laudato Si’ – Pope Francis’s landmark document on the environment – the Catholic bishops of California have released a major pastoral statement calling for statewide ecological conversion.
“God Calls Us All to Care for Our Common Home,” was released on Tuesday by the California Conference of Catholic Bishops, “to animate and energize the implementation in California of what Laudato Si’ calls us to do, and to offer a dynamic teaching and evangelization tool for our Catholic faith community and beyond, especially for young people.”
The 17-page document is divided into two sections, with the first half offering a reflection on the natural beauty of California, followed by a call to action on how all residents of the state are able to live out particular “ecological vocations” to aid the common good.
The first section, “A Canticle for California,” offers a sweeping overview of the state’s biodiversity and history.
“From the tectonic activity on the Ring of Fire, with unimaginable subterranean pressures lifting mountains, to rainfall and glaciers shaping our scenic valleys, beaches, bays, and coastline – all contribute to our understanding of what it means to live in California,” the document states.
The pastoral statement notes that California is home to more species, plants, and animals than any other state in the country, and recalls that Saint Junípero Serra – who was canonized by Pope Francis during his 2015 visit to the United States – was among the first individuals to document plant and animal life, as well as climate variations within the state.
In recalling the state’s history, the document mentions the California gold rush in nineteenth century, observing that “many have exploited California’s riches for personal gain, creating injustices that have degraded the environment and harmed its residents, especially the Indigenous and the poor.”
The document also recalls last year’s wildfires, the deadliest in the state’s history, which ravaged nearly two million acres of land and left over 100 people dead.
“The unprecedented scope and harm of wildfires across California gives notice that something in creation is awry, out of balance, and this calls us to explore how to better care for our common home,” it states.
The pastoral statement outlines the current issues facing the state, the most populous in the country, among them being the need to “to find balance between welcoming new residents and creating the infrastructure necessary to provide housing, water, education, and jobs, while at the same time preserving our fertile farmland and protecting the integrity of our natural resources.”
Similar to Laudato Si’, the document also makes the link between care for natural resources and care for all of creation with a condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide.
The second half of the document, “Living our Ecological Vocations,” offers a range of specific challenges and recommendations to a number of constituencies, among them families, policymakers, business leaders, and young people.
In terms of concrete proposals, it states that “individuals and families, no matter how rich or poor, can conserve energy on a daily basis by considering the full energy budget of any purchase, such as an appliance, a vehicle, or a home.”
In addition, public officials are encouraged to enact and promote policies that improve air quality, strengthen the water systems, and transition from a fossil-based economy that does not burden the state’s poor.
Artists and social innovators are encouraged to pursue new ways to elevate the natural beauty of the state, and business leaders are asked to think of ways to promote environmental responsibility in their marketing and to rethink their own policies.
Families and catechists are also urged to teach Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical Laudato Si’, and Catholic organizations within the state are asked to consider ways to divest from fossil fuels and to pursue more energy efficient practices.
Ahead of the pastoral statement’s release, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego told The Tablet that he hopes it serves as an effective tool in providing both a deeper understanding of ecological concerns and cause for action.
“The pastoral letter captures the awesome beauty of nature in California, the heartbreaking destruction both of nature and marginalized communities which is being inflicted by humanity on a daily basis, and a series of hope-driven yet realistic pathways of state level action that can lead to a restoration of God’s intentions for our relationship with the created order at this moment in our history,” he said.
Laudato Si’ was released by Pope Francis in June 2015, and despite being considered a touchstone of his papacy, has had mixed reaction in the United States, particularly among conservative Catholics who view climate change with suspicion.
Raymond Burnell, Director of Education and Environmental Stewardship for the California Catholic Conference, told The Tablet that “Laudato Si’ awoke urgent moral imperatives and valuable policy implications that must be considered in the public square” and that the California bishops are hoping to echo Pope Francis’s encyclical in their own document.
“Each Californian, every elected official, is called upon to embrace an ecological vocation,” he said. “Together we must address environmental issues with an integrated approach that combats poverty, restores dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protects nature.”
Thus we hope “God Calls us to Care for our Common Home” will empower public advocacy of policies that respect life and respect the envelope of life, our Earth, upon which all life depends,” he added.
Work on California’s pastoral statement, which marks the most significant document to be modeled after the encyclical in the United States, began a year ago and was the brain child of Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, California, who has long championed environmental concerns.
Earlier this year, the Minnesota Catholic Conference released “Minnesota, Our Common Home,” which is also modeled after Laudato Si’ and over the past 40 years prior to the encyclical’s release, Catholics in Appalachia have released several extensive treatises calling attention to the environmental degradation in their region.
In their new statement, California’s Catholic bishops conclude with a call for conversion for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
“At the heart of all spirituality is conversion. We all need to change for the better. Conversion is not just turning back to God, but always embraces new thinking and new decisions – a new way of life as we move into the future. Ecological conversion challenges us to advance in culture, to grow spiritually, and to be better educated about the world entrusted by God to our care,” the document states.
“The heavens and the earth belong to God, but we have been called to be good stewards. It is our hope that this pastoral statement will inspire creative, life-giving responses here in California,” they conclude.