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An Encyclical is the name typically given to a letter written by a Pope to a particular audience.  Often an Encyclical is addressed to Bishops. This audience of Bishops may be all of the Bishops in a specific country or all of the Bishops in all countries throughout the world.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia “an encyclical (from the Greek egkyklios, kyklos meaning a circle) is nothing more than a circular letter.”  In modern times, usage has confined the term almost exclusively to certain papal documents through which the Pope wishes to communicate or teach on a particular point.  “They may differ in their form from the ordinary style of either Bulls or Briefs, and which in their form are explicitly addressed to the patriarchs, primates, archbishops, and bishops of the Universal Church in communion with the Apostolic See. By exception, encyclicals are also sometimes addressed to the archbishops and bishops of a particular country."  Most recent Popes have intended their Encyclicals to be pronouncements on points affecting the general welfare of the Church

Laudota Si’


With these words (Praise be to you), Pope Francis begins his Encyclical Letter to the Church and to the world.  He is intending to exercises his role as teacher.  Ever since he was ordained a Deacon for the Church, Jorge Mario Bergolio, was called to teach.  In the rite of ordination for a Deacon, the candidate is presented with the Book of the Gospels.  He is empowered by the Bishop to:

 Believe what you read, Teach what you believe, and Practice what you teach.


The Pope, as the Vicar of Christ, carries on Jesus’ role as Teacher.  He is to lead the Church through writing and words of encouragement.  In this Encyclical letter, Pope Francis wants to teach us and future generations the importance of caring for each other and for the planet which has been given to us as Stewards.

In his introduction, Pope Francis cites other Popes and their encyclical letters.  He notes the famous Encyclical letter of St. John XXIII called Pacem in Terris.  Pope John’s call for peace at a time in world history where we were on the brink of nuclear destruction.  Pope Francis further cites Blessed Pope Paul VI who called the world to address ecological concerns.  Paul VI cited the tragic consequences of unchecked human activity.  Even emeritus Pope Benedict is quoted as being concerned about respect for the environment.

What Pope Francis has done in this encyclical is nothing new.  He is calling humankind to realize that we are stewards.  In the introduction he even quotes Patriarch Bartholomew, Ecumenical leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  The Patriarch says we must repent of the ways we have harmed the planet.  Patriarch Bartholomew goes on to say we must acknowledge our sins against creation.

The introduction winds up with the citation of Francis’ patron, St. Francis of Assisi.  St. Francis lived in a “wonderful harmony with God.”  In the Canticle of the Creatures St. Francis calls all of creation Brothers and Sisters.  Any member of the Franciscan Family can understand where the Pope is coming from in this Encyclical.  He is attempting to have us look at our place in the world not as rulers or owners, but rather as caretakers. Yes, God has given us the earth and all that is on it (see the Book of Genesis, chapter 1).  However, we are to protect and care for this gift. We are not to act as Feudal Lords.

In the upcoming weeks I will try to comment on the six chapters of the Encyclical: Laudato Si’.  It is a long document (72 pages long!), so I hope to help you understand the purpose of Pope Francis’ teaching.  As I said at the beginning.  He is speaking as our teacher.  He is not making an infallible statement.  As such he may express differing political views from our own.  Because he is not speaking doctrine we may choose to agree or disagree with any or all of what he has to say.  History tells us that many of the Papal Encyclicals have left an imprint on our society.  Only time will tell. 

As a good father, Pope Francis wants the best for us and for the planet that we share with our brothers and sisters.


Fr. Jim Henning

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