top of page

The Blog

Click on titles below to read the entire post, access the archive, and make comments.

Updated: Aug 24

Pope Francis disclosed today that he’s working on a “second part” of Laudato Sì, his groundbreaking 2015 encyclical on protecting the environment. The announcement came in a brief talk to European legal experts.

"I am deeply appreciative of the care that you show for the earth, our common home, and for your willingness to work for the development of a normative framework aimed at protecting the environment. It must never be forgotten that future generations are entitled to receive from our hands a beautiful and habitable world, and that this entails grave responsibilities towards the natural world that we have received from the benevolent hands of God. Thank you for your contribution in this regard. I am currently writing a second part to Laudato Si’ in order to address present problems."

The pope offered no details about content or timing of the new document. But it’s easy to assume that among “present problems,” the pope would include global heat waves, flooding, wildfires and smoke pollution, as well as the effects of a deadly land war in Europe.

An “update” to an encyclical that’s only eight years old marks a departure from the typical glacial pace of papal teaching. Clearly, Pope Francis follows the news and wants the church to be part of the discussion when it comes to policy changes.

I wouldn’t expect new arguments from the pope. I think he probably wants to suggest ways in which Laudato Sì can be applied to real-world situations. His interest in what he termed a “normative framework” on the environment may offer a clue to his intentions. The policy framework being developed by the European Union establishes targets for greenhouse gas reduction, renewable energy and infrastructure efficiency, among other things.

The pope’s announcement caught Vatican observers by surprise. There’s a tendency to view this fall’s consistory and Synod of Bishops as a winding down of his pontificate, but it seems there is more on the pope’s agenda.

Pope Francis is preparing to spend four days in Mongolia, a landlocked country surrounded by Russia to the north and China to the south. That geographical fact is arguably the primary reason for the pope’s Sept. 1-4 visit.

The country is home to only 1,500 Catholics – one of the smallest Catholic communities to ever receive a papal visit. But officials in China, and to a lesser degree Russia, will be watching and listening closely to the pope’s events.

Asia is considered by many Vatican officials as the church’s next great evangelizing opportunity. The number of Catholics in Asia has more than tripled over the last century, but still represents only about 3 percent of the total population.

China, of course, offers the biggest prospects for growth. But Pope Francis is unlikely to knock too loudly on China’s door while visiting Mongolia. Instead, he’s expected to deliver a low-key explanation of the church’s role in Asian societies. As he said last year in Kazakhstan – another country that borders Russia and China – Christians are called to immerse themselves “in the joyful and sorrowful events of the society in which we live, in order to serve it from within.”

The message is that Catholics are good citizens, at home in every culture, and do not operate as representatives of a foreign power. The theme will be compatibility, not competition.

The papal visit comes at a delicate time in China-Vatican relations. A 2018 agreement between the two states foresaw a new level of cooperation in the naming of bishops, but China has at times continued to act unilaterally – most recently when the government transferred a bishop to Shanghai without Vatican agreement, prompting the Vatican to issue a statement of regret.

The Vatican’s China policy has prompted internal church debate, with critics arguing that Vatican diplomats have conceded too much and gained too little. It’s not a new criticism, however; both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict were at times accused of diplomatic moves that betrayed the “underground” Catholic community in China.

Shortly after his election in 2013, Pope Francis remarked that he didn’t expect to travel much. That was accurate for his first year in office, when he made just one foreign trip, to Brazil for World Youth Day.

But since then, the pope has been adding mileage at a rate not seen since the barnstorming days of Pope John Paul II. He’s made 42 trips outside of Italy to 60 countries. That’s about five trips per year, excluding time off for Covid in 2020.

Pope Francis has also traveled to countries where no pope had ever been: Myanmar, North Macedonia, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Bahrain and South Sudan. He’ll add to that list when he visits Mongolia in early September.

Yet one country, surprisingly, has been omitted from papal itineraries to date: his native Argentina. For reasons that have never been fully explained, Pope Francis has held off on the kind of “homecoming” visit that would surely ignite enthusiasm in the predominantly Catholic country.

One factor appears to be Argentina’s volatile political scene. Pope Francis has said he doesn’t want a papal visit to play into local politics. Most recently, he has hinted that he would like to visit his homeland in 2024, after this year’s election battles are over.

In that regard, Francis is very much unlike his two recent predecessors. Pope Benedict made three trips to his native Germany, addressing Parliament and raising uncomfortable issues for legislators. John Paul II visited Poland nine times, and became a protagonist in Poland’s political evolution in the 1980s and ‘90s.

The latest reports from Argentina indicate March-May 2024 as the most likely time slot for a papal visit. As always, planning is contingent on the pope's health, but so far Pope Francis has managed mobility issues with a cane or wheelchair, and he seems fine with that.

bottom of page