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September 14, 2015

Twice in his encyclical Laudato Si', Pope Francis calls for "comprehensive solutions" to the crises of our age (60, 139). This call for policies and lifestyle changes that are comprehensive, rather than piecemeal, is the hallmark of the encyclical.

"We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature," the pope wrote.

Implementing this papal call for comprehensive solutions would deeply affect the way governments, business and societal movements operate. In a situation less crisis-ridden than that of today, devising discrete solutions to seemingly unrelated problems is satisfactory.

Today, however, the crisis facing humanity is of one piece. The breakdown of the family, the debt crisis, climate change and the failure to eradicate poverty, in different ways, find their origins in a system that maximizes short-term profits, promotes unbridled consumerism and conceives of human rights solely as individual rights.

St. John Paul II, in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus

Annus, pointed to the philosophical underpinnings of this crisis when he spoke of an "anthropological error," a failure to understand the nature of the human person. "Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God's prior and original gift of the things that are," John Paul II wrote.

Rather than approaching the world as God's pure gift, we come at it grasping for what I can make mine. The theorists of capitalism endorsed this approach, saying the common good is the net result of each person pursuing their private interests. Today, we know that ideology is the path to planetary destruction.

Pope Francis has been criticized for addressing Laudato Si' to all people, not just Catholics, and then apparently contradicting himself by proposing a clearly Catholic theology. Yet, the solution to the current crisis has a dimension which is spiritual, not only economic and social. A comprehensive solution requires a re-spiritualization of Western society and an end to the "anthropological error."

No person or organization can overcome our current problems on their own. Nor can they do it by working in isolation and hoping everything works out for the best. What is needed is a great global dialogue, a dialogue that leads to a covenant by which governments, businesses and peoples each agree to do their part in implementing comprehensive solutions. Such solutions will promote the end of private greed and the development of a new purpose in which our common home is respected as a gift given to all for the good of all and for future generations.