Pope Francis’ Encyclical is more than just Tree-Planting!

At a recent meeting, the Pope’s latest Encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ on the ‘care of our common home’ was being discussed by a group. A senior and well-intentioned member suddenly suggested that in the context of the Encyclical, we should encourage the children in our schools to plant trees. Some certainly applauded the suggestion; others retorted “we have been doing so for the last several years” and at least one rather strongly said that “the Pope’s Encyclical is not about tree-planting!”

 Tree-planting as such is not such a bad idea at all; one can learn plenty: sensitivity to nature and how to nurture a tender sapling from the very beginning. So when one talks about the Pope’s Encyclical and about tree-planting in the same breath, one is surely going to warm the cockles of the heart of many across the board: of the rich and the famous; of the powerful and other vested interests; of Governments and those in authority; of those who plunder and destroy this earth because of their rapacious greed and selfishness. “Wow”, they would say, “the Pope in ‘Laudato Si’ is speaking about tree-planting; we have nothing to fear!” After all, one cannot deny that some of the most luscious gardens, well-manicured lawns and even personal forests belong to these very groups that are responsible for global warming, climate change and for profiteering after ruining the fragile eco-systems, which belong to all of us.

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The truth is that relegating or equating the Pope’s Encyclical to tree-planting is very unfortunate: either one does not have the courage to read the Encyclical nor the openness to be able to accept what the Pope is saying very directly and unequivocally.

In the opening chapter of the Encyclical, the Pope invites every single citizen to listen to the groaning of creation; “to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it. The chapter deals with several “aspects of the present ecological crisis”: pollution, waste and the throw-away culture; climate as a common good; displacement and migration caused by environmental degradation; access to safe drinking water as a basic and universal human right; loss of bio-diversity; decline in the quality of human life and break-down of society; global inequality. He has also denounced pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) crops, declaring “the spread of these crops destroys the complex web of eco-systems, decreases diversity in production and affects the present and the future of regional economies”; well, bio-tech companies across the world will surely not be happy with this statement!

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‘Laudato Si’ focuses on human rights violations and injustices. Pope Francis does not mince words when he says “injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, committing oneself to the common good means to make choices in solidarity based on a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.”

‘Laudato Si’ is indeed path-breaking, radical in nature and which touches every single dimension of our human existence. The Pope invites all to an ecological conversion, to change directions so that we can truly care for our common home; he challenges all “what kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” To rubbish this timely and important message or to relegate it to tree-planting would certainly be a great disservice not to the Pope but to Planet Earth!

(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)


  1. While Author makes a very valid point, he still misses the bigger point in my opinion. The real message of this progressive, humanist Pope is to believe in logic, reasoning and science. Agreed – he can’t say use these exact words for reasons anyone here can understand. Pope reminds me of another progressive religious leader Pejaawara Swamij in his attempt to fight orthodoxy and conservative mindset!! For both individuals, being head of religious institutions, it’s the same tightrope walk of balancing modernity with tradition. Our scientific community has been highlighting the negative impact of human factor in global climate change for decades. However, conservative groups in West backed mainly by religious Christians have been rejecting this. Even now, one can go and look up the debates or publications on this subject and decide who is on what side. Religious leaders and groups in US still don’t believe in evolution and climate change. This is the real fight Pope is up against.

    • Original Duplicate Pai, Pejavara Swami and RSS are hybrid resonations between ultra-modernity and ancient orthodoxy. They are neither this nor that. No one knows what they are!

      The actual fact remains that they do not believe in anything, but only the winnability in politics, at any costs. They are for Yeddy, Reddy, Sushma, Vasundhara, Shobha, Renukaachaaryaa, Godse, Savarkar and IPL Modi on the one hand, and on the other for the likes of Gandhi, Subhas, Patel and Obama!

      What actually they are? They are rank opportunists! Ruthless opportunists!!

  2. His Holiness, Pope Francis is a true gift from heaven to this planet at the right time when the world is going thru so much of turmoil. Pope Francis is comparatively a young Pope filled with energy and filled with new ideas that could benefit the world. Pope Francis has already said enough, and has many more to express and share provided the World is prepared to listen to him and listen with a positive attitude.

    Ever since the Pope was elected couple of years ago, he has come up with many wonderful messages that the world has to listen, and listen carefully and digest. The Swamijis, the Imams and the Catholic Clergy has lot to share with the world because they know the dangers the world is heading to with all the modernity of life filled with some of the shocking episodes that are introduced overnight even with a Supreme Court proclamations.

    Pope Francis is a great lover of Environment. He likes the Earth because he loves the people. He wants the people of this earth to respect each other and love one another. He wants the Global Climates to be watched and watched carefully. He wants the green earth to be protected and protected lovingly. He wants the sanctity of love between the man and the woman to be spread vividly all across the globe and he wants peace. The Pope also wants to promote “Vanamahotsava” because he knows too well the green earth can bring more rain and more moisture on earth that can bring more reasons to cultivate the land in order to bring more crop for human self sufficiency.

    Un fortunately, the voice of the Pope is not so strong these days because so many other things are taking the priority. The Pope is doing his very best under all the prevailing circumstances. All that we can pray is let the Pope express his desires for the world and the people and let us listen to His voice.

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