Lately, much attention has been riveted on Laudato Si' ("Praised Be"), the latest papal encyclical on the protection of "our common home," issued by Pope Francis. An encyclical is one of the highest forms of official teachings issued by a pope. While encyclicals have historically been written with a Roman Catholic audience in mind, what makes this one unique is that it is addressed to every person on the planet.
Predictions that the document would address climate change were largely confirmed. One other significant element, however, has received very little mention thus far. The encyclical gives a remarkable amount of attention to mankind's treatment of animals. As a Catholic and lay Franciscan working in animal advocacy, it carries special significance to me, as well.
Animals are hardly a footnote in the encyclical. Indeed, the word "animal" or "animals" appears nearly as much as the word "climate." This observation doesn't tell the whole story, however. For instance, "creature" is also mentioned nearly 80 times. While human beings, too, are acknowledged as creatures, the use of this term to include both human and non-human creatures, is very likely purposeful. Integral ecology, or the interrelatedness between the Earth and its inhabitants is a major theme of the encyclical. It is also in the spirit of St. Francis' (patron saint of ecology and Pope Francis's namesake) respect for the universal kinship of all beings. Indeed, the entire document illustrates how certain systems and mindsets threaten all creation, whether or not animals are referenced by name specifically.