Laudato Si and Occupational Therapy by emily steneck

On May 24th, 2015, Pope Francis released his encyclical letter titled Laudato Si. While climate change seems to be an issue in economics and politics, Pope Francis is not attempting to cause more issues, but to rather open a conversation not many people in the Christian community talk about. “There are certain environmental issues where it is not easy to achieve a broad consensus. Here I would state once more that the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good” (188). While Pope Francis speaks a lot on the issue of environmental problems, his real underlying claim is we as a society have a problem that we believe humans are above the environment, when in reality we are codependent and must maintain that balance.

“The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life.”

An environment could be school, home, work or any place where we activities of daily living. Going back to my previous quote, what grabbed my attention was the phrase “essential conditions for human life”. As OTs, we focus so much of our practice towards the essentials of life like bathing, feeding, mobility, etc. and one of the main things we need to keep in mind is the differences in lifestyles of every client we work with. We recently spent time learning about cultural diversity and treating clients from different lifestyles, or religions, and one lifestyle that really compares to Laudato Si was the Green Lifestyle.

Pope Francis states “Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion”

One of the core beliefs of living a green lifestyle is not simply reducing, reusing and recycling, but (like Pope Francis said) rather changing the fundamentals of a client’s personal, social and institutional lives. Pope Francis in this previous quote is stating that we need to change not only our actions, but our mentalities and assumptions, that is also what people who believe in a green lifestyle practice every day. Just by making simple changes to our lives, we can benefit the environment, but it will take more than just that to fix the damage we already inflicted.

“The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.”

If you look at this quote and keep in mind the idea of fracking, which is the process of releasing chemicals into the earth to force more oil to be produced, then it makes a lot of sense. Fracking is great for the economy, it creates jobs, it helps us with daily occupations by allowing us to drive and heat our homes, but it is not a good solution by any means. It ends up harming the common good of people by deceiving them into believing this is a great process all to protect our economic interests, as Pope Francis states. As on OT, everything we do is for the betterment of the client, so we cannot simply ignore their beliefs to try and make our lives easier.

Environment, meaning the place in which you are growing in, is evident in other works outside of Laudato Si, like Saint Augustine’s book titled Confessions. Relevant in book one and two of Confessions, Augustine is figuring out the person he wants to become by meeting new people and falling into different situations. He tells a story of the rebellious phase he entered when he stole a pear from a tree that belonged to another person.

Augustine was looking for trouble, to which he found a new environment filled with people who influenced his decisions. Later looking back, he realized his new environment at the time was not the place where he was meant to flourish in. This whole story that Augustine tells ties into occupational therapy because if a client were in an oppressive environment, they would not have the desire or motivation to continue therapy. Given an environment which allows understanding, no judgement, and some freedom to keep their life how they want to, will eventually increase overall client satisfaction.

There are seven Catholic Social Teaching principles that each involve helping yourself, others or God; the one principle that relates to occupational therapy the most is a “call to family, community and participation”.

This principle believes that as a community, we all have the opportunities to be part of a society that works together for the common good and well-being. In studying theology this semester, I began realizing that it seems like we are all given a purpose by God to follow in his footsteps and carry out the works that he had set in place, those being the Catholic Social Teaching principles. By choosing occupational therapy as a career path, I am completing this specific principle because we center our practices around the clients and their needs, desires or likes.


Augustine, of Hippo, Saint, 354-430. (19401949). The confessions of Saint Augustine. Mount Vernon :Peter Pauper Press,

Catholic Church., & McDonagh, S. (2016). On care for our common home: The encyclical of Pope Francis on the environment, Laudato Si'.


Created with images by Mikdev - "pope pope francis vatican" • geralt - "globe clouds sky" • Desmond Simon - "Smoke" • Thomas Richter - "untitled image" • Bram Naus - "Pear Tree" • Muriel Sandoval - "untitled image"

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