ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis describes his environmental conversion in a new book by leftist Carlo Petrini, while also praising the pleasures of eating and sexual intercourse as "divine."
Petrini has been described as an activist, sociologist, journalist and gastronome. Published last week, his book is titled (in translation from Italian), TerraFutura: Conversations With Pope Francis on Integral Ecology. Vatican News describes Petrini's book as stemming from his "desire to uphold and encourage Pope Francis' invitation to tackle and change a destructive pattern that has led to widespread social and environmental injustice and take action to 'care for our common home'" as postulated in the pope's 2015 encyclical, Laudato Sí.
On Sept. 12, Francis told assembled members of the Laudato Sí Communities at the Paul VI Audience Hall that they have placed the principles of "integral ecology" proposed by his encyclical as "the driving force of all your initiatives."
Ecology is integral, he said, because "We are all creatures, and everything in creation is connected; everything is connected. Indeed, I dare say, everything is harmonious." The Holy Father continued, "The pandemic has also proved it: Human health cannot be separated from that of the environment in which it lives."
"It is also evident that climate change not only upsets the balance of nature but causes poverty and hunger, affects the most vulnerable and sometimes forces them to leave their land," the pontiff added. "Neglect of creation and social injustices influence each other: It can be said that there is no ecology without equity, and there is no equity without ecology."
The book's preface was written by Petrini's friend, Bp. Domenico Pompili, with whom the author founded the Laudato Sí Communities to put the encyclical into practice. Pompili wrote that the pope and the author are "both interested in the Earth and its future," while seeking an "ecology that ceases to be a banner and becomes a choice." It was Pompili who introduced the two men.
The book stems from three "frank and friendly" interviews that Petrini held with Francis, who shares the writer's ostensible commitment to "cultivate and preserve" the planet. The first interview came in 2018, following a deadly earthquake in Italy, while the second meeting took place just before the Sept. 2019 Synod of the Bishops for the Amazon.
The third came during the coronavirus pandemic this year. The book is organized along the following themes: Education, community, migration, economics and biodiversity. Vatican News described these as coming from a "concrete and spiritual perspective" and as an invitation to "reconnect" to the earth and its peoples "in line with the pope's teaching."
In the first interview, Petrini praised missionaries of the Consolata order for staffing a hospital in the Amazon but reportedly without "proselytizing." Francis responded by saying that his predecessor, Benedict XVI, affirmed that "the Church grows not by proselytism but by attraction, that is, by testimony." Francis said, "I get angry when they say that Benedict is a conservative, Benedict was a revolutionary! In so many things he did, in so many things he said, he was a revolutionary."
The conversations offered further insights into the Argentine pope's thinking. For example, he told Petrini, "Pleasure arrives directly from God; it is neither Catholic nor Christian nor anything else; it is simply divine." Francis added, however, "The Church has condemned inhuman, brutish, vulgar pleasure, but has on the other hand always accepted human, simple, moral pleasure."
The celibate and avowedly chaste pontiff said that while an "overzealous morality" that denies pleasure has existed in the Catholic Church, this is a "wrong interpretation of the Christian message."
The pope said, "The pleasure of eating is there to keep you healthy by eating, just like sexual pleasure is there to make love more beautiful and guarantee the perpetuation of the species." He went on to say, "The pleasure of eating and sexual pleasure come from God."
He singled out the 1987 film Babette's Feast as a "hymn to Christian charity, to love." Set in the 1800s, the movie recounts how a French chef wins a lottery and prepares a sumptuous meal for a group of elderly Puritan Protestants living in an otherwise bleak landscape.
While talking to Petrini in 2018, Francis referred to the thinking that led to Laudato Sí. The pope said that he experienced a conversion about the environment during the Fifth Conference of Latin American and Caribbean Bishops held in Aparecida, Brazil in 2007.
He told Petrini that he was annoyed at the time by Brazilian bishops. He said that he did not understand why his colleagues focused on the "great problems of the Amazon" and admitted that the "world's 'green lung' was not a concern" for him. However, since then, he said that his "perception of the environmental problem has completely changed."
According to the pope, Laudato Sí was the fruit of the "work of many people, scientists, theologians and philosophers" who helped him to clarify the encyclical and who worked "on the final composition of the text." It was when he met French minister of the environment Ségolène Royal in 2014 that he understood the "centrality" of the environment in the world.
Praising the document's focus on the themes of a "common home and social justice," Royal predicted that the encyclical would have a "great impact," whereas the pope told Petrini that he did not know it would "cause such a stir."
After the release of the encyclical, the pope said, he found that "most people, those who care about the good of humanity, read it and appreciated it, used it, commented on it, quoted it." He said, "I think it was almost universally accepted."
"We must fight greed," he said; we are to resist "the thought that I should exploit Mother Earth because Mother Earth is big and should give me what I want, period — this is a completely sick thought; it can only take us to collapse." Francis said that young people are "aware that this civilization and this model are leaving only the crumbs to them and that if they do not act now, they run the risk of finding themselves in trouble."
The pope insisted that Laudato Sí is "not an environmental text. It is rather a social encyclical." Being "part of ecology," he said, humanity and environment are not separable. The encyclical values biodiversity, the pope said, as a "heritage that allows us to live on this planet." He fears that, with the current "productive and economic model," it could be destroyed.
Francis also warned of offenses against "human biodiversity":
We can all pray in the same way, but this destroys human biodiversity, which is above all cultural. No! Each one prays according to his own culture! And celebrate the sacraments according to one's own culture. In the Church there are more than 25 different liturgical rites, which were born in different cultures.
Also, environmentalism alone is not enough, Francis told Petrini, saying:
What we're talking about here is what sort of model of coexistence and the future we have, and how to build it. What is at stake is the huge issue of social justice that, even today, in an interconnected and apparently prosperous world in which we live, we are far from achieving.
Entering the political field, Francis denounced populism and the barring of immigrants. He said that those seeking to aid immigrants should "neither respond nor be intimidated, because these assaults are a sign that they are doing the right thing." As for his own critics who say that he is stepping out of line because he embraced gypsies at the Vatican, he had these words: "But where does this closing-up lead us, what is awaiting us? We live in a Europe that no longer has children, that is violently shutting down immigration and forgetting its centuries of migration."
As for populist movements, Francis said:
Populism nowadays is strong, which is the best way to prevent the upsurge of popularism — the true soul of the people. Populism has nothing to do with the people; to the contrary, it oppresses their soul, caging its most positive and noble spirit. ... Populism works on the people but without the people, using the instincts of people facing hardship, signaling the enemy that must be fought exclusively for power.
It is selfishness, the pope said, that characterizes modern society:
There is a current of selfishness that hurts and must be rejected with charity and goodness. ... Today, priorities have changed. We want to travel, buy a house, we want to do other things that in the current culture are more important and have priority. ... What awaits us in the future? No children and no immigration. What awaits us?
Petrini is the founder and president of Slow Food, a pressure group that stems from a forerunner organization, Arcigola, that was founded in 1986 in Italy in opposition to the opening of a McDonald's franchise restaurant in Rome next to the famous Spanish Steps.
According to its website, Slow Food affiliates are found in 160 countries and seek to "to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people's dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us." Slow Food's critics say that the goals of the group are unrealistic for working-class people and place an undue burden on women.
In 2015, Petrini said about Laudato Sí that it is a "blunt but unbiased realization of the reality of our shared home, the earth and its bounty."
He added that the encyclical is "about how much damage we have done to things and people by senselessly imposing our model of development, for which we have let our politics surrender to the economy, and the economy to technology."
Petrini wrote a reading guide that was included in the Italian edition of the document, published by Edizioni Paoline.
Petrini, a self-proclaimed agnostic, began his political life movement in the communist Partito di Unità Proletaria and started contributing articles about food and cooking to communist newspapers Il Manifesto and l'Unità in the 1970s.
He has written regular columns for the Italian daily newspapers La Stampa and La Repubblica.
He is also the founder of Terra Madre, which the website describes as "an international network uniting food producers, fishers, breeders, chefs, academics, young people, NGOs and representatives of local communities — all working to establish a system of good, clean and fair food from the grassroots level."
In effect, it is a collaboration of Slow Food with the foreign ministry of Italy and various arms of the Italian government.