Living Laudato Si – SMA Summer School

earth rise from moonThe SMA Summer School was dedicated to celebrating the 1st anniversary of Pope Francis’s Encyclical Laudato Si.

Living Laudato Si – Its Theological, Spiritual and Practical Application’ was the theme explored during the three-day conference at the Dromantine Conference & Retreat Centre, Newry, Co. Down.

The scientific evidence for Climate Change is overwhelming, increasingly undeniable, and alarming in its implications for all life on earth, not least human life.

The summer school had four presentations, each offering different but complementary perspectives on Laudato Si.

The opening address was given by Dr Catriona Russell, Department of Religions and Theology, Trinity College Dublin, who spoke about ‘Realities are greater than ideas’, as stated in paragraph 201 of Laudato Si. In this instance, the reality of Climate Change must be the unifying driving force of all ideas that are invoked to address it. The Theological responses must be three fold: (i) Stewardship (LS 142 and 196) emphasising that we are stewards of the Earth, not owners or conquerors; (ii) Eco Justice (LS 93) emphasising that humans have a shared inheritance with all life on the planet and (iii) Creation Faith (LS 8) invoking us to honour the integrity of the Earth and our responsibility to its wellbeing for the sake of all life. 

Fr. Donal Dorr, a Kiltegan Missionary, and consultant on the writing of Laudato Si looked at the encyclical from the perspective of spirituality. He began by stating that Vatican II had liberated the Church from a dualist and escapist theology and spirituality creating four new possibilities: (i) It made space for a linking of Humanistic psychology with Christian Spirituality; (ii) It leads to Feminist Theology and Spirituality; (iii) It opened a space for Liberation Theology and Spirituality and (iv) it has now made it possible to have an Ecological Theology and Spirituality.

According to Fr. Dorr, Pope Francis has recognised that the words in the Book of Genesis were wrongly interpreted at times in the past, used to justify Dominion, Domination and Exploitation (LS 67). The encyclical also emphasises that it is wrong to view other living beings as mere objects subject to arbitrary human domination (LS 82). They have their own intrinsic worth, not dependent on humans to decide their value or worth, and they are not resources to be exploited by humans (LS 35). Regarding Contemplative Spirituality, Fr Door emphasised that deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings, especially the poor (LS 91).

Participants at the Summer School share Eucharist with Fr. Donal Dorr
Participants at the Summer School share Eucharist with Fr. Donal Dorr


Dr. Lorna Gold, head of Policy at Trócaire looked at Laudato Si as ‘A Challenge for Governments and Policy Makers’.  She began by quoting the American environmentalist/journalist, Bill McKibben, who wrote: “Laudato Si is an event”. Dr. Gold also stated that Laudato Si has been grasped more outside the Church than within it. “Some,” she said, “had found themselves out-radicalised by the head of the Catholic Church.” 

“It’s better to be Utopian and have a future than to be a realist on a dead plant. Laudato Si,” Dr Gold stated, “is based on the best available scientific evidence.” What makes it so powerful is that it is a dialogue between religion and science. And “the science gives clear cause for alarm.”

The timing of Laudato Si, she believes, may have played a role in shifting the debate of the Paris Climate Summit. But the life of Laudato Si goes beyond 2015. “It’s impact is just beginning.” Consequently, we are all challenged to follow the example of Pope Francis by actively debating and pursuing policy changes in and through the three themes that recur throughout Laudato Si: (i) The inadequacy of Markets as a rational basis for guiding actions. Profit cannot be the sole criterion. The environment cannot be protected by market forces. (ii) We need a new concept of progress. Currently ‘progress’ is primarily measured by economic progress. We cannot have limitless growth on a finite planet; (iii) The voices of the poor and the cry of the Earth are missing.  

Fr Sean McDonagh SSC who was also a consultant on Laudato Si and a veteran campaigner for caring for the earth, stated that the encyclical was “one of the most important documents ever to be delivered by a Pope to everyone on the planet.” To Christians, and specifically Catholics, Pope Francis emphasises in paragraphs 21 and 64 that the issues addressed in his letter are “an essential part of their faith”, and a recognition that the “intimate relationship between the poor and the fragile planet is one crisis – not two.” This reality calls for a Global Ecological Conversion and profound changes in lifestyles. Currently, Fr McDonagh informed the summer school, “20% of the earth’s population use 80% of its resources.” This is both unjust and unsustainable.

“Laudato Si”, Fr. McDonagh stated, “is the first papal document to understand the magnitude and urgency of the crisis facing humanity.” This in turn calls for a huge moral catechism across the church and society. Laudato Si calls for both a new spirituality and a new moral teaching which previous generations had not to deal with.

St. Francis of Assisi “is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically”, according to Fr McDonagh.

Complementing these presentations were different workshops led by Padraig Mallon, a sustainability professional; Sr Mary Kate Hagan RSM who is involved in an ecological initative in Bundoran, Co. Donegal; Professor Eamonn Conway, co-director of the Centre for Culture, Technology & Values; Dr. John Feehan, award-winning environmental communicator;  Catherine Devitt, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice and Sr Catherine Brennan, a St. Louis Sister and founder of Eco Congregation Ireland.

Cardinal Turkson addressing Summer School on Laudato Si
Cardinal Turkson addressing Summer School on Laudato Si

A highlight of the conference was a video presentation by Cardinal Turkson, President of the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace. Cardinal Turkson offered 7 touchstones which he called the ‘Seven-Cs’ to help participants remember Laudato Si’s crucial themes:

  1. C = Continuity (we are all part of a great continuum in the Alpha and Omega of Life)
  2. C = Collegiality (no man or woman is an island, we are a community)
  3. C = Conversation (the need for dialogue)
  4. C = Care (for Creation and the fragility of the Earth and its poor)
  5. C = Conversion – (the need for an Ecological Conversion)
  6. C = Citizenship (ecological and educational citizenship)
  7. C = Contemplation (recognising that everything is God’s gift to us)

Dr. Lorna Gold recommended a short video by CAFOD, the UK’s Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, as a means of taking away a simple and visual summary of what we had gathered to commemorate and be inspired by. To view, click here Laudato Si – A Letter from Pope Francis

For those interested in hearing the entire Summer School, 8 CDs are available at a cost of €30 plus postage and packing and can be ordered by emailing the SMA Laity Coordinator, Mrs Dympna Mallon, at [email protected] 

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