Pope Francis is proving himself to be quite the radical reformer.
His recent Encyclical, Laudato Si’, addresses not just Catholic bishops, but everyone. He roundly condemns the modern paradigm of growth and profit at any cost and calls on political leaders to pay more than lip service to the earth’s massive environmental and social problems, from climate change to the lives of the poor, saying: “A technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress”.
His challenge extends to all of us: “The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes”. This is of course something I whole heartedly agree with, having witnessed habitats being systematically destroyed in the pursuit of mass consumption and factory farming.
Not only is our massive misuse of resources deplored, but the encyclical goes so far as to say “we need to grow in the conviction that a decrease in the pace of production and consumption can at times give rise to another form of progress and development”. This is enlightened thought indeed!
There is a better way. The Pope proposes an “ecological conversion”, which is based on “attitudes which together foster a spirit of generous care, full of tenderness” and which “entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion.” He says that this change in lifestyle “could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power.”
Although factory farming is not condemned as such, the encyclical emphasizes the importance of caring for the earth and its creatures, including “showing care for other living beings”, assisting small-scale farmers, planning a diversified and sustainable agriculture and the rotation of crops – just what we at Compassion believe in.
Our relationship with the other creatures in the world is clearly of great importance to Pope Francis. He quotes from the most recent edition of the Catechism which he says “clearly and forcefully criticises a distorted anthropocentrism: ‘Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection… Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness. Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things’”.
As the organisation which led the successful campaign to achieve recognitions of animals as sentient beings in the European Union, we welcome this emphasis within the encyclical. Add to this, the Pope’s recent speech at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), where he deplored the wastefulness of using so much of the earth’s crops as animal feed, and we can feel that here is one religious leader who is largely in sympathy with Compassion’s own aims of a fairer and more compassionate food and farming system.