As I reflected on my own upbringing while reading Laudato si', Pope Francis’ encyclical on concern for the environment, I really appreciated some of things the pope discusses in it. For example, in paragraph 210, Pope Francis observes that education takes place first in the home and in the family. He also notes that environmental education should facilitate the “leap towards the transcendent.”
I think that “leap” happened to me as I grew up, even though I was not conscious of it. Taking care of plants and animals was a great learning experience of my childhood.
I recall learning to help my father and brothers with planting our backyard vegetable garden. First, there was the hard work of preparing the garden by turning the soil. Then came planting seeds, potted greenhouse tomatoes, and onion sets from our local garden supply. After that, we would diligently water and weed until the time when we could begin harvesting the fruits of our labors. Gathering fresh lettuce, onions, carrots, tomatoes, string beans, and sweet peppers was a chore, but it also put fresh, nutritious food on our big table.
Over time, I also learned to help with the yardwork--planting flowers, bulbs, and shrubs. Even mowing the lawn and learning to care for garden tools and our lawnmower were useful things learned at home. All of these things gave me an appreciation for natural beauty, as well as, a respect for tools and machinery.
I would spend time hiking in the forest in our backyard, as well as caring for our pet dog and the horses and ponies our neighbors shared with us.
In #214 of Laudato si' Pope Francis writes: Good education plants seeds when we are young, and these continue to bear fruit throughout life. Here, though, I would stress the great importance of the family, which is “the place in which life—the gift of God—can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth.” (cf. John Paul II’s, Centesimus Annus #39).
Pass it On
Caring for creation is the major theme of Laudato si'. Pope Francis develops a contemporary theology of creation and an ethical view of our obligations to be responsible stewards of God’s earth in the face of the environmental crises of our world today. I encourage parents and teachers to read and reflect on how all of us can contribute to long-term, sustainable ways of improving our environment.