How St. Francis influenced Pope Francis' Laudato Si.
Repairing and restoring are the keys in the conversion experience of St. Francis of Assisi. In the spirit of emulating what Francis did, Pope Francis applies these two keys to his papal encyclical on environment. Thomas of Celano, who was received into the Order by St. Francis himself, and was the first one to write a life of St. Francis, as well as the first to describe the earliest days of the life of St. Francis' followers, wrote in his book The First Life of St. Francis:
Now the first work which blessed Francis undertook after having been delivered from the hand of his carnal father was to build a house for God: but he did not try to build it anew, rather did he repair the old and restore the ancient; he pulled not up the foundation, but built upon it, ever (though unwittingly) respecting Christ's prerogative, for "other foundation, can no one lay than that which hath been laid, which is Christ Jesus." And when he had returned to the place where (as has been said) a church of St. Damian had been built of yore, he zealously repaired it in a short time, the grace of the Most High being with him. (Chapter 8)
Thomas of Celano tells us that St. Francis did not build San Damiano Church where he heard a voice telling him to "rebuild my church" anew; instead, he repaired and restored its structure because he believed that Christ called him to build His Church upon the foundation where Christ had laid for him. St. Francis respected and followed what Christ instructed him to do. Being influenced by St. Francis, Pope Francis also uses that language and concept in his encyclical called "Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home." He calls "every person living on this planet" (Introduction, Section 3) for an action to prevent global environmental deterioration:
The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. Here I want to recognize, encourage and thank all those striving in countless ways to guarantee the protection of the home which we share. Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world's poorest. Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded. (Section 13)
Here, Pope Francis implies that our common home, Mother Earth, who sustains us, is being damaged by our irresponsible actions and the overuse of the energy with which God has bestowed her. He suggests that although the circumstance at present is not pessimistic, there is a possibility to change as long as we work together to "seek a sustainable and integral development." Therefore, the action of change to protect and reshape our common home on the foundation God has laid for us is what Pope Francis looks for throughout this encyclical letter; he tries to evoke everybody's interest to face the environmental challenge by seeking the concrete solutions as a community to shape the future of our planet. If God had called St. Francis of Assisi 800 years ago to rebuild and restore his churches upon the foundation he had laid for him, Pope Francis would be the contemporary reflection of St. Francis called by God to restore the beauty and goodness of our Mother Earth God has created for human beings. The difference between St. Francis and Pope Francis is that St. Francis went about rebuilding the churches without announcing it to others, but his actions attracted many followers who came to see what Francis was about. As a result, they stayed. Pope Francis, on the other hand, answers the needs of the contemporary world by calling everyone on earth to take action to protect and shape an optimistic future for our offspring as he says, "All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents" (Section 15). It seems that it is through this calling of Pope Francis, we see how God calls everybody to restore the greatness and beauty of creatures God has endowed on each of us.
St. Francis of Assisi is widely acknowledged as the patron saint of ecology in Christian world today. He is well known for his sense of caring all creatures on earth. Pope Francis' environmental awareness in his encyclical is definitely driven by the ecological sensitivity of St. Francis of Assisi. In this letter, the close connection of the writings between St. Francis and Pope Francis is illustrated right off from the title of the letter. Pope Francis uses the phrase "Laudato Si" in the title. Cindy Wooden informs us in her article "The Encyclical Title Affirms All Creatures Have a Common Creator," that "Laudato Si" is an Umbrian dialect phrase that came from the 13th century a hymn of praise written by St. Francis called "The Canticle of the Creature," which is often called "The Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon" as well. In his article, '"Laudato Si' Will be an Encyclical for the Ages," Ines San Martin also indicates that it can be translated both as "Be Praised" or as "Praised Be." This phrase, actually, appears in the poem or the prayer of St. Francis almost every line as he is praising God's wondrous deeds through every creature in the world. St. Francis says:
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun... Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful. Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind, and through the air, cloudy and serene... Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water, which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste. Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you light the night and he is beautiful... ("The Canticle of the Sun")
In the introduction of the encyclical letter, there is a short Section that is titled "St. Francis of Assisi." Pope Francis acknowledges that he does not want to write this encyclical letter without mentioning the compelling figure of St. Francis (Section 10) to tell the readers how much his life and his thoughts are influenced and inspired by St. Francis. Obviously, Pope Francis's sense of integral ecology is influenced by St. Francis as he demonstrates, "St. Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically ... Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human" (Section 10).
On the one hand, Pope Francis is saying that through the example of St. Francis' ecological sensitivity, we, as the coworkers of the Creator, are able to see and experience an integral ecology that is beyond any human being's knowledge and understanding. Such a simple and natural experience in nature could lead us to "the core value of what it is to be human." On the other hand, Pope Francis illustrates that St. Francis' ecological sensitivity is driven by his love and praise to all creatures, through which he shows a great compassion and respect toward the vulnerable, the poor, and the outcast of society. The strong compassion and respect of St. Francis are indicated through his bearing of infirmity and tribulation in Christ as he says in the "Canticle of Sun," "Praised be You, my Lord, / through our Sister Bodily Death, / from whom no living man can escape. / Woe to those who die in mortal sin. / Blessed are those whom death will / find in Your most holy will." Francis' encounter with the leper, who was the outcast of society during the Middle Ages, set the tone for the rest of his life. Through the experience of the encounter with the leper, St. Francis realized that an invitation to reconciliation was irresistible in him. This reconciliation was not only with the marginal, the poor, and the outcast of society, but also with every living creature on earth. His encounters with the natural world: with animals, birds, fish, and so on inspired him to be a greater lover of nature and a poet who saw the beauty of God in all that was around him. Evidently, this great love and repentant heart for the natural world as well as for the vulnerable not only shaped the identity of Francis and the expression of his spirituality but also engendered Francis' sensitivity for the ecological environment.
St. Francis' example of ecological sensitivity evokes Pope Francis' thought, through which his sense of integral ecology is generated. By addressing a fact that humankind is experiencing existential crisis on multiple fronts throughout the encyclical: pollution and climate change, loss of biodiversity, and global inequality both in economy and in resources, Pope Francis makes us realize that these crises are not independent, but closely interwoven. He says, "The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together: we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation" (Section 48). Although remarking on economic and social issues are not Pope Francis' intention of this encyclical, the likelihood of bringing together issues of social justice and economic inequality into relationship with our increasing understanding of environmental challenges and global climate change is brought on the surface as he imposes the theory of integral ecology on his readers (Pruett). As St. Francis did, Pope Francis also builds up a relationship between humanity and the living creature. He continues in the Section of Global Inequality:
In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: "Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest." For example, the depletion of fishing reserves especially hurts small fishing communities without the means to replace those resources; water pollution particularly affects the poor who cannot buy bottled water; and rises in the sea level mainly affect impoverished coastal populations who have nowhere else to go. The impact of present imbalances is also seen in the premature death of many of the poor, in conflicts sparked by the shortage of resources, and in any number of other problems which are insufficiently represented on global agendas. (Section 48)
Humanity, as part of the community of living creatures on Earth, is closely correlated with its living environment. Thus, Pope Francis points out in this quotation that when the deterioration of the environment and of society takes place, it will affect the most vulnerable people on Earth. The imbalance of economy and the increased competition for resources, including water and land, will inevitably affect the life of the poor in the society and the chain of biological life on this planet. If this situation continues, it will cause the poor to be poorer, the rich to be richer.
The compassion and love St. Francis presented toward all creatures gather us to be one family through his use of language: sister, brother, mother, and Sister Mother Earth. Thus, St. Francis' poem "The Canticle of the Sun" became a benchmark of his ecological sensitivity especially embodied in his intimate relationship with God through every creature around him on earth in the poem. While he wondered and praised what God created for human beings, such as sun, light, the bodies of heaven, wind, water, and so on, he also wanted to include them as his "brothers" and "sisters" in one family as he called them Brother Sun, Brother Wind, Brother Fire, Sister Moon, Sister Water, and Sister Mother Earth. Pope Francis follows St. Francis' footprints and spirit, calling for an action of being as kind and compassionate as St. Francis did toward our Mother Earth. He says that it is Francis of Assisi who "reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us" (Section 1). Here, St. Francis and Pope Francis draw analogies between Mother Earth and our common home between Sister Mother Earth and ourselves.
The analogy between Mother Earth and home illustrates a picture where we all live on this same planet, which God has created for us. Mother Earth not only accommodates us, but also provides food and resources that we need in order to make a living. From this perspective, it is our common home that God gifts to all of us in this world. If we all live in this common home, Mother Earth, then we are all brothers and sisters with every living creature. This is exactly what both St. Francis and Pope Francis advocate in their writings, and the expression of their spirituality and mission. Since Mother Earth yields the necessary products to sustain us daily, her role is just like a mother in a family to nourish each member.
This leads to the next analogy, which is between Sister Mother Earth and us. Both we and Mother Earth are created by the Creator, God. If God has created each one of us, including heaven and Earth, then, we all belong to God's family. The relationship among us on this planet will be brothers and sisters. We all live and grow in God's family. Consequently, only when we show our respect, care, and compassion toward every creature in the ecological system, do we find ourselves and be who we are. Thus, Pope Francis invites every one of us on earth to participate this constructive project, not only for the Catholics but for all people as he says in the letter, "Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet" (Section 3). Pope Francis includes every person in this integral ecology project to rescue our common home from deterioration no matter whom we are and where we come from.
The use of the analogies tells us that both St. Francis and Pope Francis want to reveal the fact that everything is connected on this planet. A good example in the encyclical letter is that Pope Francis emphasizes the integration between human beings and biodiversity. By tracing the footprints of St. Francis of Assisi, in Chapter II of the encyclical letter, he says that because of imprudent approaches to the economy, commerce, and production, the resources of Earth are facing serious shortage and imbalance (Section 32-42). The idea behind this is that, on the one hand, with the loss and extinction of some species, we will no long see God's wondrous deeds and praises Him through them on Earth. This loss causes a disconnection between the Creator and the human beings because we know that St. Francis found God's existence and experienced God's beauty in every creature. On the other hand, Pope Francis emphasizes the fact that the natural environment is enormously damaged by our irresponsible behavior. We have to learn from Francis of Assisi to create a culture where all creatures and human beings can coexist harmoniously and benefit each other fairly. This is particularly embodied in the story of "St. Francis and the Doves" by Ugolino Brunforte in his book on the life of St. Francis, The Little Rowers of St. Francis, which was composed at the end of the fourteenth century. Brother Ugolino illustrates that when St. Francis saw a young man who took turtle doves to the market, Francis gazed upon the doves with pitying eyes and then, without any hesitation, he rescued the turtle doves from the youth's hands. St. Francis not only called them brothers and sisters but also made nest for them. Apparently, the gentleness and compassion that St. Francis showed to these turtle doves are lost virtues for humans today. By showing the loss of biodiversity in the encyclical letter, Pope Francis encourages us to look back on how St. Francis built the harmonious relationship between humans and other creatures, which is a driving force for him to conduct this encyclical letter.
One of the characteristics that Dennis et al. indicate in their book called St. Francis and the Foolishness of God is that the early Franciscan community included women as their members. This characteristic is also incorporated in Pope Francis's writing. Through the story of "Lady Clare of Assisi" in the Tales of St. Francis by Bodo Murray, we know that Clare of Assisi was among Francis' first followers. St. Francis encouraged her not only to live a consecrated life by helping her escape the obstacles from her parents but also to compose guidance for her sisters. As we know that these Poor Clare sisters came from all social classes, even the poorest. This was totally against the social norm of that time when candidate who entered the convent had to bring something to increase the wealth of the institution. Francis did not follow what the social circumstance said at all but embraced Clare and her sisters as his and the community's sisters to manifest God's will on earth. Actually, the inclusion of women in St. Francis' life had never ceased. He first accepted Clare as a member of his journey. Then, he miraculously healed a female leper's body and soul as he went out the world and preached love of Christ. Later, in his life, through the prayer "The Canticle of the Brother Sun," he used the word "sister" as a signal to include the female gender in his praise.
The word "sister" appears many times in the encyclical letter. While we see how Pope Francis is influenced by St. Francis's writing, he also integrates the values behind the Saint's life stories in his writing and speech. This can be seen especially when he values the role of female both in the Church and in the world today. At the beginning of the letter, Pope Francis uses the word "sister" as he says, "our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us " (Section 1). Then, he quotes the sentence in the "Canticle of the Brother Sun," "Praised be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs." Pope Francis considers Mother Earth as our sister, who shares the resources with us as well as provides the necessary products for us to survive. As St. Francis did, Pope Francis also wants to address the role of female because no matter male or female, we are all created by God. Furthermore, Pope Francis also adopted this concept in his speech that he gave to the young people during his apostolic journey in Philippines early this year. When he saw only a few women were invited on the stage to share their hardships and life, he indirectly criticized the fact by saying, "the small representation of women. Too small! Women have much to say to us in today's society. Sometimes we are too 'machista'; we don't make room for women. Women are able to see things differently than men. Women can ask questions that we men just don't get..." (Meeting with Young People). By saying this, Pope Francis implies that God's face is in both men and women. Gender difference can help us improve our society. Either in Pope Francis' writing or speech, we can clearly see that what he emphasizes on the roles of women mirrors exactly St. Francis' embrace of St. Clare and her sisters into the new way of life and his use of feminine names in his writing.
Peace and nonviolence are shared values both St. Francis of Assisi and Pope Francis possess. In his life, St. Francis shared the wisdom of peace and nonviolence through his advocacy of dialogue between people and wild animals, between towns, and between the Sultan and Christianity. This notion of not engaging in violence of any land empowered him to serve as reconciling force and peacemaker in situations of conflict throughout his life. A good example will be St. Francis had a peaceful dialogue with the Sultan. In his book Tales of St. Francis, Bodo Murray says in the tale of "St. Francis and the Sultan:"
* He [Francis] carried no sword. At first, I [the Sultan] thought he was a fool, a coward: but then I realized his courage was in his faith. In simplicity and poverty of spirit, Francis came into my very camp, where he was bound and tortured. (78)
* Francis said to the Sultan, "Well, then, great Sultan, would you and your people embrace the Christian religion if I entered the fire alone and emerged unharmed?" ... It was an interesting proposal, but I had to decline. "That challenge I cannot accept, holy man, for it would cause a riot among my people." (79)
St. Francis set out for Egypt as a peacemaker during the Fifth Crusade because the Muslims controlled Jerusalem. We know that Francis was unarmed. Instead of advocating his own faith by fighting and killing, Francis showed respect and understanding to the Sultan and his religion. He tried to convert the Sultan by putting great faith and trust in God in the test of fire. However, the Sultan did not accept Francis' proposal of embracing the Christian religion if Francis could safely escape from the fire. Bodo says, "Nevertheless, I had come to respect this barefoot man before me, and so I offered Francis gifts of friendship, which he acknowledged but politely refused. I then provided him safe passage from my camp" (79). At this point, the Sultan had been changed by Francis even though he declined to embrace the Christian faith, because he showed respect to Francis and made friends with him; finally, he escorted Francis out of the camp unharmed. Apparently, neither the Sultan nor St. Francis was "converted" by the end of the dialogue. Nobody died or was hurt either.
Both St. Francis and the Sultan were not changed to be identical in their faith but to understand better God's will in their lives, ft was the moment that the Sultan let Francis leave safely that both Francis and the Sultan experienced transformation. Therefore, the dialogue did not transform their religion; instead, it brought out a continuous conversion in their lives to find the way God prepared for them. The difference between the Sultan and St. Francis still remains, but the power of reconciliation appeared between both the two men and their religion. Perhaps, this is why St. Francis is widely considered as the father of inter-religious dialogue in the Franciscan world. Conversion others to our faith is not important; what really counts is the reconciliation among different faith denominations. Although there are many different perspectives to comprehend St. Francis' purpose on his journey to Egypt, I personally would consider the story of St. Francis' encounter with the Sultan as an example of the nonviolence where dialogue is valued and highlighted.
Another good example of St. Francis as a peacemaker is when he mediated and eventually healed the serious rift between the bishop and the mayor of Assisi. Francis loved both the Bishop and the Mayor of his city. When he could not stand them hating each other, he called both of them to meet in the Bishop's palace. Although Francis was too ill to come, he sent his friars to sing the Canticle of the Sun to the Bishop and the Mayor. Miraculously, both of them were touched by the sentence "Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love and bear infirmity and tribulation. Blessed are those who endure in peace for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned." They realized that Francis was calling them to pardon each other for the love of God. Finally, the two embraced and peace was restored between them ("Saint Francis of Assisi, Following Francis, Following Christ").
It is obvious that St. Francis, as a peacemaker of God, longs for the dialogue both in the community and outside the community. The story of St. Francis and the Sultan and the mediation between the Bishop and the Mayor are the good examples of this idea. However, before St. Francis reached out to bring peace to others, he himself sought his own peace both in his mind and body. He says in the Admonition XV, "The true peacemakers are those who preserve peace of mind and body for love of our Lord Jesus Christ, despite what they suffer in this world." This belief of Francis is deeply rooted in his own experience of the encounter with the leper, which is a turning point from which he embarks on his lifelong conversion journey. In his book The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi, St. Bonaventure, the Franciscan Bishop and Doctor of the Church, says:
Now on a day while he was riding over the plain that lieth beneath the city of Assisi, he met a certain leper, and this unforeseen meeting filled him with loathing. But when he recalled the purpose of perfection that he had even then conceived in mind, and remembered that it behoved him first of all to conquer self, if he were fain to become the soldier of Christ, he leapt from his horse and ran to embrace him. When the leper stretched forth his hand as though to receive alms, he kissed it, and then put money therein. (Section 5)
This was a profound and decisive moment in St. Francis' early stage of life. The impact on his life was unexpected and immeasurable. Bonaventure tells us here that although there was a feeling of disgusted existing in Francis at the moment he saw the leper unexpectedly, he made a quick decision and conquered his very self to kiss the leper in order to "become the soldier of Christ" totally. As Dennis et al. say that as the minority of the society in Francis' time, the leper was severely restricted by laws that isolated them from the rest of the society (13). Francis as the part of the society knew that if he wanted to find the perfection in Christ, then the leper would be someone who could help him to find peace and joy to reach that goal. Gradually, Francis allowed that process of conversion be informed through his contact with the leper and the poor around him. The embrace of the leper became the foundation shaping Francis' vision and values as a peacemaker inside and outside the community.
As St. Francis did, Pope Francis also underscores the importance of dialogue to protect and restore our common home. He traces St. Francis' footprints and embraces the idea of nonviolence in his writings. The word "dialogue" appears in the encyclical letter many times, especially in Chapter V where Pope Francis proposes the approaches and actions needed to take for "outlining the major paths of dialogue which can help us escape the spiral of self-destruction which currently engulfs us" (Section 163). Pope Francis applies this idea into his encyclical letter as he says in the introduction, "In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home" (Section 3). First of all, Pope wants to address this environmental issue to all people through a dialogue instead of a monologue. A dialogue needs the both parties to show respect while listening to each other. It also requires the both parties to be willing changed by the aspects of truth expressed by each other. As we mentioned earlier in this paper, Pope Francis' idea of our common home brings each of us as a member of a family where we are all sisters and brothers. Unlike St. Francis, Pope Francis wants to have a dialogue on the level of a community. Secondly, by using the word "dialogue," Pope Francis not only shows respect to every human being from different faith communities but also invites every person to participate in this particular event. This idea is consistent with the early Franciscan communities, in which they took people where they were and transformed people based on an authentic living of the Gospel in the way of Francis instead of changing people radically (Dennis el al, 51). This means neither St. Francis nor his followers imposed the dedicated life nor any restrictions on any individual who would like to join the communities. St. Francis accepted and accommodated each individual in the order based on his or her present state, which were the secular Franciscans. This entirely new understanding of dedicated life allowed individuals experiencing their own conversion process in Jesus Christ from where they were and who they were. Unexpectedly, Pope Francis' "dialogue with all people" exemplifies what St. Francis did for his followers in today's society through his writings.
Along the way we examine the connection between St. Francis' writings and Pope Francis' writings, we found that Pope Francis not only uses St. Francis' language by considering all the creatures as our brothers and sisters but also draws the important spiritual dimensions and themes from the saint, especially from the hymn of praise "The Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon." By using the language of St. Francis, Pope Francis compels us to go back and reexamine Franciscan values in contemporary world. In order to save our common home from the deteriorating situation and continue to find God's face and existence in all creatures, not only do we need to realize the oneness living on this planet, but we also need to dialogue with people both inside and outside the community. Therefore, the reference to St. Francis of Assisi that Pope Francis uses in his writing reminds us of our dignity as God's children and our responsibility for compassionate care and solidarity with the poor.
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|Author:||Zhang, Xue Jiao|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2016|
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