Laudato Si.

“People need to push the envelope with regard to the Pope’s encyclical while simultaneously forcing a discussion about overpopulation, but neither subject is being properly addressed in any quarters.” — Valleria Ruselli

While waiting to hear back from a non-profit I reached out to as a volunteer today, I dropped by St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Stockton, California to ask about whether or not they’d be interested in my helping them to honor the thrust of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si. The priest was out, but the woman working in the office engaged with me. Turned out that she hadn’t even heard a word about the Pope’s revolutionary plea, neither the pontiff’s recommendations respecting social issues, nor his inspiring and urgent messages about the natural world that many have taken to heart.

It piqued my curiosity that — at this late date — there were still Roman Catholics working in church environments who were totally ignorant about what the Vatican’s leader claimed were dire issues which had to be addressed immediately. Soon after the Pope had issued his encyclical I had had disappointing exchanges with some priests, sensing that they weren’t interested in working in solidarity to spread the word, so to speak, but I had taken that as an indication that I was not someone they wanted to work with at the time. That I came off, perhaps, as personally off-putting. Today, though, I began to wonder how many members of congregations had even been informed of what the Pope had labeled “dire challenges.”

And so… I conducted some research in Northern California, spending the lion’s share of the remainder of the day interacting with average church goers and employees of various dioceses. Was the flock informed, or were the pope’s words considered a crock by many priests? Not worthy of heartbeats, sermons.

In and around St. Mary’s, not one of a dozen folks I encountered knew anything at all about the Pope’s encyclical. That astounding degree of ignorance across the board motivated me to reach out to other Roman Catholic centers focusing on several issues. What’s directly below represents my findings, which I trust will be instructive to readers. I had a lot of questions.

The Diocese of Sacramento covers a great area, and it gave me easy access to a slew of souls willing to respond to my various inquiries. The main thing I asked about was the encyclical, though, and only one person out of twenty-three could tell me anything at all about what it comprised. And it’s worse than what first meets the eye. [Pause] Let’s recap and clarify. That was — total — one out of thirty-five who I crossed paths with that even had “encyclical” as part of their vocabulary. Folks really glazed over when I brought up the “On Care for Our Common Home” message… issued by the religion’s leader with a great sense of emergency in 2015.

Between about 2pm and 4pm PST I took a break from in person contact, and got down with making telephone calls and sending emails to complete my informal survey. The results were devastating. Not a single person out of the two dozen additional targets of my research on the phone knew anything about the Pope’s message, and the email responses were only slightly better, two out of twenty-two having anything to say at all. [Pause.] And with both of those positive replies, I suspected that embarrassment (at not knowing something) might have prompted them to look up Laudato Si before commenting.

Still, at best, we’re talking about only three out of eighty-one, yes? I do think my math is correct. What’s off, though, is the public’s sense of the Pope’s impact, the press coverage of his influence (all along the political spectrum) and the lack of embrace of his leadership among adherents of the faith.

But perhaps the worst aspect of all this is what the lack of knowledge respecting the encyclical says about our chances of survival. [Pause.] And then there’s the huge gap that exists between what we all talk about and what we do in general.

It was only a very short time ago that the encyclical generated ongoing discussion of its alleged “monumental importance”… among virtually all informed citizens. And now — in retrospect — the publicity and highly touted exchanges appear to have been only so much passing fluff in the so-called real world.

I plan to confront the next priest I cross paths with. What about you?

Richard Martin Oxman, Director of Flannery O’Connor Academy, has been an educator on all levels for over half a century. He can be reached at  Perhaps people who don’t think the encyclical has anything to do with them should think twice; when it was issued it was hailed as giving us a shot at turning things around, and since then… no comparable sign of large scale hope has emerged. Nothing with the potential to move millions.


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One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    The path is clear ….only one must tread it carefully …..