The circle of life

Joseph F.X Zahra's article on The Sunday Times of Malta

Much has already been said and written on Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’. The dust will not settle fast on an encyclical which has been labelled as being ‘red’ and ‘green’ by different political and lobby groups. Similar to his exhortation letter, Evangelii Gaudium, of 2013, it is destined to remain a point of reference to both believers and non-believers.

It was a remarkable initiative of Archbishop Charles Scicluna to introduce the encyclical to the Maltese less than 10 days from its publication at a very well attended meeting in Tal- Virtù – politicians, leaders of civil society and others were given more than a description of the encyclical’s contents with focus on its relevance to the citizens of Malta as part of the global community.

This letter from Pope Francis has some breakthrough messages to the world community. It tackles a number of issues we may consider far beyond the boundaries of a single religion. It is a political message in the sense that it confronts the existing balance of power where decisions are taken by politicians, business people and consumers. It is part of a process by which Pope Francis is challenging present social and business models, by questioning the ‘status quo’ and forcefully demanding social and economic reform. Do not take present systems as given, he is clearly saying, but question the present way of doing things and challenge yourselves to come up with different solutions.

Pope Francis considers civil society as a protagonist in this process, which according to his thesis, can be a more genuine and liberating voice than that of career politicians. The Pope presents himself again as a provocateur to self-righteous and conservative people living in their comfort zones unaffected by the pain and misery of a large section of humanity.

His message is inter-generational. It looks further than the five- and 10-year horizons of governments and business. Decisions need to be taken with the perspective of their impact on the next and future generations.

The letter is not anti-science, anti-entrepreneurship, anti-technology or anti-globalisation, but it is against morally deficient governments, business and science. It is for ethical decision-making and policymaking void of abuse and misuse of resour­ces, of misleading information, of waste and cronyism and corruption. It seeks consciousness of the external effects of each and every decision that goes beyond short-termism.

The encyclical is meant to inspire global citizens to a more lyrical view of the world – the relationship between humanity and God through creation. The physiological, emotional and intellectual dimensions of the person are meshed together through a spiritual dimension based on intimacy and faith in the Creator. The Pope refers to God and creation as mother and sister.

Pope Francis, who lives a frugal and simple life in a community of permanent guests and visitors at Domus Santa Martha, returns to the evangelical model of living, which exudes the benefits of the gemeinschaft, the warmth and intimacy of a community, as distinct from the gessellschaft, the society shackled by the formality of urban life and imposition.

We may resist change in the way we do things and treat each other and the environment we live in. The imposition of officialdom and regulation, which has now been blown out of proportion and has restrained human freedom and privacy in a manner even socialism failed to do, is depleting the human soul of its capacity to be free to be creative and enjoy creation. We have lost confidence in humanity.

Pope Francis identifies the value of fulfilling work that gives dignity to the person and the value of rest and reflection that enables us to regain energy to participate in the process of creation. This is a boundless message that targets the mind and is then to be reflected in our attitude and behaviour. The self-righteousness of the powerful and mighty is converted to the humility and self-awareness of those who realise that we all came from “dust and return to the dust” (Genesis 3:19). Our faith, strengthened by reflection on the power and glory of creation, can widen beyond limits the circumference of the circle of life.

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