On Pope Francis

“Monday Musings” for Monday July 6, 2015

Volume V. No. 27/235


Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Climate Change: An Analysis

 By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA, ScD (Hon)*


In his most recent encyclical, Pope Francis is urging the world to act on climate change. A few reflections:

I have been reading Papal encyclical since I was a small boy. I used to get such a big thrill to get my copy of Pope Pius XII Encyclicals and his Urbi et Orbi on Christmas and Easter. Going to a French Jesuit school in Tehran accentuated my love for the Papal pronouncements, even though I must admit that half of the time I did not quite understand what I was reading. Nonetheless, I have continued to read with fascination and try to understand what the Popes, these men of power ensconced in seats of empyrean try to tell their flock, and for that matter to the world. Of the six succeeding Popes since Pius XII, and they are Saint John Paul XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis, I have found The current Pope Francis to be most clear in identifying and focusing the human issues, such as poverty, income inequality and gender. I often compare the Popes and their writings to the Chairs of the American Federal Reserve System.  Some are as confusing and tortuously unintelligible as the utterances of the former Chairman Alan Greenspan, and some are as clear and lucid as Paul Volcker… and some like Bernanke, somewhere in the middle. Pope Francis is an exception. His language is simple; his pronouncements, credible and his rhetoric imbued with passion and commitment. By the way, I have not made up my mind about Janet Yellen! Pope Francis speaks in intelligible and easy to understand language. In his exchanges with the heads of states including Presidents Obama of US and Putin of Russia, his primary expressed concerns are peace, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and sheltering the homeless.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio born December 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires, Argentina was elected Pope in early 2013 and took the name Pope Francis after Saint Francis of Assisi. In fewer than ten months he managed to place himself in the center stage of the world. As one Journalist put it “He placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time: about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, and the temptation of power…:”

I like Pope Francis. To me, his admirable humanity asymptotically approaches Godliness. I look forward to reading his future encyclicals and seasonal Urbi et Orbis and anything else he has to say or write.

The Pope’s latest encyclical deals with the issue of climate control. The encyclical is a book length treatise consisting of six chapters, and a footnote of some 75 references. In one chapter, the stunning title “Ecological Education and Spirituality” the Pope examines our individual responsibility and the moral imperative of caring for our home, the earth. This is the first time, ever, I have seen the word “ecology” uttered by a Pope.

In this work, Laudato Si’ (praise be to you, my Lord) Pope Francis does not take sides on the controversy of climate change. He does not assert the correctness of “science” vs. “non-science” approach or assertion about climate change. He merely examines the issues and makes recommendations for being a more concerned and aware citizen of the world. To keep our home, the earth, clean and tidy. Care for the health of our common home, our earth, just like a father teaching his children the virtues of cleanliness. In his May 24, 2015 encyclical, Pope Francis states that “We can see God reflected in all that exists. Our hearts are moved to praise the Lord for all his creatures and worship him in union with them.” The Pope is not only a church father, a theologian, but a philosopher. This is a rare combination. In 2000 years history of the church we have had fewer than what you can count on one hand, people who qualified for the empyrean seat of “philosopher and Saint”. They are Saint Anthony (born early first Century; died middle of first century), Saint Augustine of Hippo (Nov 13, 354-August 28, 430 AD), Saint Ambrose (340-April 4, 397 AD), and Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225- March 7, 1274). Maybe you can add Pope Gregory (540-March 12, 604) to the list. I taste the delicious flavor of that rare combination—philosopher and saint–in the makings of Pope Francis. It is exciting!

In assessing Pope Francis’ spiritual place in the world, frankly, our Pope fits in the Sufi Khaneghah, as a Kalender, as a Jew in a synagogue, as a Buddhist in a Temple, as a Hindu reading and preaching Bhagavad Gita, and as a global evangelist re-inserting God in the lives of seven billion (soon to be eight billion) inhabitants of the earth. I am personally impressed that the Pope is evangelical and not evangelistic. In the true sense of the word, Pope Francis is a catholic (with small ‘c’)—a man of universe, a citizen of the world, a faithful and comfortable child of God who while exuding joy, conducts a consequential life.

Critic of his holiness’ Encyclical:

In Pope Francis’ May 24, 2015, “Laudato Si’, urging the world to act on climate change, what I find missing is a lack of emphasis on prevention. I fully agree that we should feed the hungry, clothes the naked and shelter the homeless. Those are the primary responsibilities of every child of God. However, in his encyclical, the Pope does not address the issues of how to prevent hunger, nakedness and homelessness. Very few suggestions, if any, are made on the Church’s directions and responsibilities for prevention, family planning, and birth control. No mention of investing in education to prevent generating irresponsible sex machines who reproduce, bring children to the world and abandon them.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association; Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association; and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012).

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