This month is marked by Pope Francis’ publications of two Apostolic Exhortations – Laudate Deum and C’est La Confiance. Together, they shed new light on the expansive global movement of ecological civilization and its potential to serve as our common hope.
Eight years ago, Pope Francis expressed his heartfelt concerns about the care of our common home in Laudato Si’. Earlier this month, in Laudate Deum, Pope Francis emphasized that climate change is a global social issue. By clarifying the global reality of climate change and its “anthropic” origin, he issued an urgent call for a broader perspective, “one that can enable us to esteem the marvels of progress, but also to pay serious attention to other effects that were probably unimaginable a century ago.” Pope Francis reiterated his two convictions expressed in Laudato Si’ – “everything is connected” and “no one is saved alone” – and his earlier diagnosis of the technocratic paradigm underlying the current process of environmental decay. He stressed that contrary to this technocratic paradigm, we must not view the world that surrounds us as “an object of exploitation, unbridled use and unlimited ambition,” but recognize ourselves as a part of nature, while understanding human life, intelligence, and freedom as “elements of the nature that enriches our planet, part of its internal workings and its equilibrium.” In doing so, Pope Francis encouraged a “healthy ecology” that results from the interactions of human beings and the environment, of natural systems with social systems, other than a denial of the human being.
Further, to accomplish this vision, Pope Francis called for a reconfiguration and recreation of multilateralism by taking into account the new world situation. Having mentioned the importance of multilateralism in Fratelli Tutti,he pointed out its intimate connection with postmodernism, grounded in the observation that “postmodern culture has generated a new sensitivity toward the more vulnerable and less powerful.” Advancing his proposal in the previous encyclical, Pope Francis accentuated the need for an alternative approach to politics, where “ethics will prevail over local or contingent interests” in “recognizing that the emerging forces are becoming increasingly relevant and are in fact capable of obtaining important results in the resolution of concrete problems.”
The ever-defined shape of Pope Francis’ message shares profound affinity with the emerging and expansive global movement that is ecological civilization. John B. Cobb, Jr. pointed out that the idea of ecological civilization was first fully developed in China. In my 2021 article, I have considered the deep commonalities between the proposal of ecological civilization and that of integral ecology exemplified through Laudato Si’. I proposed that they create a novel opening for the development of an eco-spirituality in the Chinese Catholic Church and suggested that this eco-spirituality could serve as the Chinese Church’s active response to climate change and ecological crisis and contribute to the work of reconciliation and the common good in China and the world. My understanding of ecological civilization has grown substantially in the past two years as I dove deeper into its philosophical foundation, its dynamic manifestation, and its global and grassroot developments. Through first-hand experiences and personal conversations with leading Chinese scholars and activists of ecological civilization, such as Zhihe Wang and Meijun Fan, I began to realize the intimate connection and deep entanglement between the proposal of ecological civilization and Pope Francis’ thought. I become ever-more convinced that their common vision is a result of a convergent intellectual development and is pointing us toward our common hope.
In their seminal 2011 work The Second Enlightenment, Wang and Fan offered their decades-long integration of the best of Chinese and Western thought, while bringing together the novel perspectives of process thought and constructive postmodernism. They demonstrated a deep concern for the world through a thoughtful analysis of modern industrial civilization and its close association with the first Enlightenment, referring to both the 17th and 18th-century intellectual and philosophical movement in Western Europe and the early 20th century May Fourth Movement in China. Issuing a thorough critique of modernism and its prevailing implications to contemporary social and ecological crisis, Wang and Fan advanced the proposal of a second enlightenment that moves from modernism to postmodernism, from industrial civilization to ecological civilization. They stressed that a second enlightenment is also a postmodern enlightenment, which is not found in a total denial of the first enlightenment (modern enlightenment), but in the integration of its marvels of progress.
The leading scholar in religion and ecology and a member of the International Earth Charter Drafting Committee, Mary Evelyn Tucker, observed that in light of the current environmental crisis and its devastating impact, some Chinese people are charting a path towards a sustainable future against great odds by “reflecting on the need to create not just a technologically sophisticated society, but an ‘ecological civilization.’” Wang and Fan and the Institute for Postmodern Development of China function as a locus for these developments. Over the past decade, the Chinese proposal of ecological civilization has grown increasingly expansive as a result of the inclusive outlook of pioneering Chinese scholars and the common vision that resonates with diverse communities around the world. In 2019 Philip Clayton and Wm. Andrew Schwartz published the book What is Ecological Civilization? Crisis, Hope, and the Future of the Planet. They pointed out that while China has been among the leading voices in ecological civilization, ecological civilization as “a vision of hope for a better future” has now expanded globally. It requires a fundamental transformation of modes of production and development, of worldview, values, and lifestyle. Appealing to Thomas Berry, Clayton and Schwartz emphasized that the goal of ecological civilization is “to live in a community of subjects rather than a collection of objects.” They elucidated the scale of the “great transition” we are currently witnessing and the common vision that has been taking root in many different communities, under many different names, such as “integral ecology,” the “new story,” “unity in diversity,” “constructive postmodernism,” the “ecozoic era,” and the Japanese notion of “Yoko civilization,” etc. The vision is one of “moving beyond the broken civilization that is driving economic globalization today – the vision of a radically new mode of human life on this planet.” Noting the immensity of this global movement, Clayton and Schwartz mentioned that working toward ecological civilization has brought hope to people around the world.
It is only telling that Pope Francis followed Laudate Deum with another apostolic exhortation on St. Thérèse of Lisieux, urging all theologians, moralists, spiritual writers, pastors, and believers to appropriate her insight, that is the little way of trust and love, also known as the way of spiritual childhood, from which is born “a most firm hope.”Pope Francis called our attention to the thick darkness St. Thérèse experienced and her complete confidence in God’s infinite mercy, “’confidence that must lead us to Love.” Exalting her insight that God’s Justice is clothed in love as the loftiest and one of her major contributions to the entire People of God, Pope Francis pointed out that St. Thérèse “probed the depths of divine mercy, and drew from them the light of her limitless hope.” Granting St. Thérèse the title of “Doctor of Synthesis,” Pope Francis not only opened a novel path for the exploration of St. Thérèse’s doctrine, but also pointed us to its vital relevance to the dark night of contemporary global society confronted by prevailing climate crises and structural sin. He indicated that St. Thérèse’s confidence has “an integral meaning that embraces the totality of concrete existence and finds application in our daily lives.” This understanding is reflected Pope Francis’s insistence that “every little bit helps.”  It is precisely what underlines the great work of ecological civilization, which, beginning with comprehending the global situation as one of civilizational change, serves as the foundation for realistic and long-term hope. In many ways, such common hope is grounded in the same insight of St. Thérèse, that is the complete confidence in an infinite Love and its inexhaustible creativity.
 Francis, Laudate Deum, par. 2, accessed October 18, 2023, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/20231004-laudate-deum.html
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 Francis, Laudate Deum, par. 39.
 Francis, Laudate Deum, par. 40.
 John B. Cobb, Jr. “What Is Ecological Civilization?” in What Is Ecological Civilization? Crisis, Hope, and the Future of the Planet, by Philip Clayton and Wm. Andrew Schwartz. (Anoka, MN: Process Century Press, 2019), 6.
 Simeiqi He, “The Time Has Come!: An Eco-Spirituality for the Chinese Catholic Church in Light of Climate Change,” Asian Horizons, Vol. 15, no. 2, June 2021, 314-327.
 Zhihe Wang and Meijun Fan, A Second Enlightenment (Beijing: Peking University Press, 2011), 23.
 Mary Evelyn Tucker, accessed October 18, 2023, https://reflections.yale.edu/article/risk-our-food-our-water-ourselves/ancient-voices-speak-ecological-future
 Philip Clayton and Wm. Andrew Schwartz, What Is Ecological Civilization? Crisis, Hope, and the Future of the Planet (Anoka, MN: Process Century Press, 2019), 68.
 Clayton and Schwartz, 60.
 Clayton and Schwartz, 71
 Clayton and Schwartz, 72
 Clayton and Schwartz, 147
 Francis, C’est La Confiance, para.50, accessed October 18, 2023, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/20231015-santateresa-delbambinogesu.html.
 Francis, C’est La Confiance, par. 28-29.
 Francis, C’est La Confiance, par. 25.
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 Francis, C’est La Confiance, par. 23.
 Francis, Laudate Deum, par. 70.
 Clayton and Schwartz, 163.