"Nature Never Forgives" – For Eco-cyclical, The Final Countdown
...yet while Sunday papers the world over lead this morning's editions with an amusing game of "Pin the Frame on the Laudato," as its Thursday release approaches, the most credible curtain-raisers you'll find haven't figured on the mainstream radar – and as ever, if you're surprised about that, you haven't been paying attention.
The focus of what's become the most intensely awaited (or, depending on one's worldview, dreaded) papal text since 2007's Summorum Pontificum which "liberated" the pre-Conciliar liturgy – but this time, the sense of ideologically-induced foreboding is on the other foot – in a marked change from its traditional sphinx-like approach, the Vatican has introduced Laudato Si' with a concerted, apparatus-wide rollout effort over the last several months to place an unavoidable spotlight on the document's importance both to the Pope himself and for the wider church.
While Francis himself has led the charge with a host of statements worked into his various talks, the "guts" of the operation began rolling in March, when the Curia's Social Justice Czar Cardinal Peter Turkson made the coming text the focus of his turn at the annual Lenten lecture for the Irish bishops' charitable arm Trócaire.
Revealing that the document would "explore the relationship between care for creation, integral human development and concern for the poor," the Ghanaian prelate added that "the timing of the encyclical is significant [as] 2015 is a critical year for humanity," with three major international conferences on development and climate change intertwining in the year's second half.
Beyond the text itself, Turkson's opening intervention revealed what's become another core piece of the Vatican's messaging strategy: placing Francis' push for an "integral ecology" squarely in line with the teachings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI dating back to Solicitudo Rei Socialis, the former's 1987 encyclical on "the church's social concern," and even stretching through Paul VI to the documents of Vatican II itself.
In a second preview, the cardinal laid out the moral arguments for the church's intervention at the April conference on climate change hosted in tandem at the Vatican by the Pontifical Academies for Science and Social Sciences, whose respective leaders have since engaged in a remarkable – and, for Curial appointees, practically unprecedented – pushback at critics of the initiatives, with the head of the science arm, Archbishop Marcel Sanchez Sorondo, citing a root of its resistance from "the Tea Party and all those whose income derives from oil." (In a detail that shouldn't be overlooked, Sanchez is an Argentine compatriot of the Pope's.)
Most recently, meanwhile, another authoritative foresight came last week from Civiltà Cattolica – the Jesuit-run journal whose contents are only published after receiving clearance from the Secretariat of State, and whose editor, Fr Antonio Spadaro, has become a critical adviser to and shadow spokesman for the Pope.
In a sweeping, meticulous editorial providing the backdrop to Laudato – which, in a rarity, was simultaneously released in English alongside the usual Italian – Civiltà recalled Francis' 2013 inaugural homily, which conspicuously included the line "Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!"
Again linking the text to the heritage of the prior pontiffs, the journal pointedly cited among them a passage from B16's 2010 message for the annual World Day of Peace, for whose theme the now-retired Papa Ratzinger chose the the topic "If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation" (itself a play on Paul VI's famous maxim, "If you want peace, work for justice"):
"Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions? Can we disregard the growing phenomenon of 'environmental refugees,' people who are forced by the degradation of their natural habitat to forsake it – and often their possessions as well – in order to face the dangers and uncertainties of forced displacement? Can we remain impassive in the face of actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources?"All that said, for every frame that's been tossed around and the host of lineages cited, perhaps the most remarkable absence from the fevered anticipation is the very setting Francis chose for his springboard... and, given its classic rendering in English, well, what's an ecclesial moment without an opening hymn?
As all this goes, you can hardly get more traditional than that.
Still, not to be outdone, at the close of his noontime Angelus today, the Pope plugged Thursday's release, asking prayers "that everyone might receive its message and grow in our responsibility toward the common home that God has entrusted to us."
"This encyclical is addressed to all," Francis said, urging the crowd "to accompany" its release "with a renewed attention to the situations of environmental degradation, but also of recovery, where you live."
All that said, for now, a final word of advice: in a nutshell, until this thing finally appears – and mass reading habits being what they are, likewise well afterward – there's no limit to the projections, interpretations and/or wishful thinking of what it will or won't say, nor on how many spins the blindfolded "exegete" has taken before making their stab at it. And even once pub-day arrives, the tendency to "insta-analaysis" won't shed much light on the content itself; indeed, that'll only come with time.
Given this backdrop, all the more amid the charged environment of the moment, the reminder bears repeating that it's better to be more discerning about what you read as credible than the person who aimed to write it. Even for everything that's in circulation right now, church, that choice remains... so choose wisely.