Dean Sarnecki

Dean Sarnecki

September 14, 2015

Laudato Si', Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, should be integrated into what children are taught in the Catholic school system.

That's the message Dean Sarnecki, executive director of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association, gave to a group of teachers Aug. 30.

Speaking to staff of the Evergreen Catholic School Division at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic High School in Spruce Grove, Sarnecki said the pope's encyclical is a timely call to teach children about the importance of caring for God's creation.

Sarnecki said schools have an essential role to play in providing students with a Catholic worldview on the environment and urged teachers do their part.

"We have to do change."

The encyclical will form the basis of the Catholic Church's position at the UN Climate Change Convention to be held in Paris in December, said Sarnecki.

"The second reason (for the encyclical) is our pope comes from South America. South America and the Global South are being disproportionately hit by climate change in a negative way."

Because it comes from the pope, Laudato Si' is now part of the teaching doctrine of the Church or the teaching theology of the Church. "It's something that we as Catholics ascribed to."

In a recent article on the ACSTA newsletter, Catholic Dimension, Sarnecki described Laudato Si' as a deep reflection on Catholic teaching on creation, the human person's place in creation, and the care and beauty of the earth.

He said chapter six, Ecological Education and Spirituality, "has a rich deposit of ideals and teachings that will be essential for Catholic education and foundational in future religious education and hopefully, ecological education courses.

"One of the gifts of Pope Francis is his writing style, which is highly accessible for all."


In his presentation, Sarnecki said the pope partially blames consumerism, modern society and secularism for the destruction of the environment. The pope calls us to examine our lifestyle and how we live and what we value.

"We are a consumeristic society," said Sarnecki. "Ask kids in your classes what is the goal of their lives? It's usually money or power or things.

"A consumeristic society defines success as one with things, with power and Pope Francis is saying, 'We have to teach our kids what success is. Success is love, care, compassion, mercy, relationships.'"

Sarnecki quoted an Ontario Catholic school superintendent saying Laudato Si' will influence the curriculum of Catholic schools across the country. "Fifteen years ago we didn't teach much about of ecology or taking care of the world or looking after resources. Now it's going to become very much part of what we pass on to our children in schools," he quoted the superintendent as saying.


Sarnecki encouraged teachers to make that happen, starting by saying weekly prayers for creation in the classroom.

Paraphrasing the pope, Sarnecki called on teachers "to be intentional in our teaching to our students about creation, ecology, the environment, relationships and how they all interact."

Although it is difficult to fight against the values children receive at home and in society, teachers will have an influence on them, especially in the younger grades. Children "look at you, and you become the authority and you can really challenge them and make them think," the ACSTA executive director said.

"We have to teach them things like how to critique individualism, competition, unlimited progress, consumerism, the unregulated market."

Sarnecki quoted a recent CBS poll of Catholics in the U.S. saying that 39 per cent of Catholics that attend Church have heard of Laudato Si', but only 20 per cent have ever heard it mentioned in Church.

"Like, what are we doing in our homilies and our teaching?" he asked. "We must recognize we need to be committed to a change in the way we work."