By Davide Dionisi
It’s already been four years since the publication of the Encyclical Laudato Si’ and it seems that all its deep value has not yet come out. What is its main contribution?
Laudato Si’ was a huge surprise for the Church and for the world. Never before had a Pontiff addressed the ecological crisis in such a holistic way and with such an original approach. In fact, this pontifical document broadens the gaze on the origin of the ecological crisis and focuses attention on its human causes rather than on the effects of the degradation of the various ecosystems. Hence, the Pope affirms that the detriment of nature comes above all from a political, economic and social disorder, rather than from biological and climate circumstances.
Much of his reflection returns firmly to the point of the supremacy of the technocratic model of global development as the main culprit in the current situation, which by the way also generates a deterioration in the quality of human life and a social degradation. To summarize, Pope Francis offers a more integral analysis of this problem which afflicts every inhabitant of the earth or of the "common home", as he calls our planet.
Does the Pope conceive technology to be the main problem with this technocratic model?
Not at all. As a matter of fact, the Pope conceives technology as a very useful tool, as a great fruit of human creativity that we have received as a gift from God, and that we have the responsibility to develop. Nevertheless, we have to be aware that even if technological innovations have been conceived for good, they can be used for evil or for different purposes not based on its origin. So, technology does not appear as something neutral in the pontiff's eyes, since the same thing that can help to promote development can also generate large-scale environmental, social, economic and political problems.
What Pope Francis warns us about is the role of technology as a tool widely used by the technocratic model, which mainly uses only a partial economic approach to measure, evaluate and intervene in reality. Therefore, the environmental, social, psychological and spiritual dimensions of human society take second place and are not considered when making political, economic and social decisions at local and global levels. At the end of the day that kind of reducing method harms humanity, particularly the most vulnerable persons. Daily we can confirm that some kind of applied technology diminishes the dignity of individuals and communities and it is far from contributing to true human promotion. The Pope is very strong in this point, and that is why he affirms that "a technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress" (LS 194).
Does technology have an impact on your mission as a Church or is just a mere instrument for your tasks?
Our vision of technology is of a missionary character, because through it we have an infinitely greater range than with other techniques of announcing the Gospel contained in the Pope's messages. Hand in hand with technology, we are able to foster an attitude of "Departure", to go to meet those who do not have the opportunity to receive the words of life that the evangelizing message implies. This is a clear fact that we welcome and use technology as a wonderful tool. In fact, all communication technology not only facilitates, but also makes it possible for that missionality appropriate to the Church to be lived much more efficiently, but above all, to be closer to each human being, in order to reach those who live in territorial and existential peripheries to which, otherwise, we would not be able to reach.
A few months after assuming the role of successor of Peter, the Pope promoted a reform of the Roman Curia in order to respond better to the its mission and to carry out a more efficient and transparent pastoral management and governance of the Church. This reform has meant an organizational restructuring of the Holy See of great proportions in which the criteria described by the encyclical Laudato Si' have been a permanent reference. What we have done is to rethink our usage and application of technology in a way that is aligned with Laudato Si’, so that everything becomes more sustainable. This means at the same time, that we are fulfilling our main task that is to increase the missionary dimension of the Church, fostering once again our attitude of permanent “Departure” to go and encounter every person in need of God’s Mercy and Tenderness.
How were those criteria implemented in the Reform?
In so many ways! But, particularly, I would like to stress two of them: a better use of energy and the concern about workers. When we implemented the hyper convergent system with the Holy See's Technological Direction to integrate the computerized management of Vatican communications, we did not only intend to provide a service of optimum quality. Together with this, we seek a balance between the optimization of financial resources, a considerable reduction of the environmental impact and the strengthening of our human capital.
If Pope Francis fosters an integral ecology that looks after workers, how did you manage to do that through the reform process?
The Pope strongly demanded that the reform should not involve a general dismissal of workers. For Pope Francis the theme of access to work, and to decent work, is a permanent concern, and does not escape his notice on the ecological crisis. In Laudato Si’, the Pope is categorical in warning that "technological progress increasingly replaces human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity" (LS 128).
The reform of Vatican communications meant the reorganization of the nine entities that became a single and new institution, more agile and efficient to manage institutional, journalistic, theological and pastoral communication. Our challenge was to further involve the more than 600 workers in this reorganization process, even though there would be functions that would be replaced by technology. So, following the Pope’s teaching and his personal convictions, our ethical and practical option to face this situation was to enable and provide workers with the appropriate skills for the new system. All this implied a re-engineering of the system, not only technological but also human, verifying personal capacities, promoting training and recreating a new organization and work flow.
Which kind of clean energy processes do you manage in Vatican City?
For instance, through the application of hyper convergent technologies, we were able to increase the density of services, while through virtualization we reduced the number of devices for network and storage. The implementation of a closed air conditioning loop allowed us to considerably reduce the cubic meters of air to be cooled. We also achieved a 37% saving in the use of lighting energy by replacing black with grey in the cabinets. At the end of the whole long process of reforming the technological infrastructure, we noticed a 30% energy saving compared to the previous system, which means around 2.200 MW/h of CO2 less each year. So far, since the beginning of the Reform we have been able to reduce 1.000 Tons of CO2.
Has the Holy See tried to give an international signal with this kind of good practice?
The Pope and all of us knew that this would become a point of reference at the ecclesial level for all the Catholic communities in the world who see in of the Holy See a concrete way of acting in their daily life and in their relationship with the world.
Sometimes the Pope has surprised the Church and the world by using the word “revolution” to express how Catholics should act in the midst of society. Is this perspective of ecology a kind of revolution?
In Laudato Si', facing the reality of the decomposition of many social ties, the Holy Father warns that "All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution" (LS 114). The Pope is a very smart communicator, he knows perfectly well when and how to use his vocabulary. He likes to use the word revolution as something that comes to break those pernicious orders that have been established in society. For example, on several occasions he has referred to a revolution of tenderness, as a subversive act of Christianity to overcome hatred and selfishness.
This encyclical is particularly revolutionary in stating that in nature, everything is interconnected, that we are part of a single creation that is a truly integrated system. Thus, each one has a unique responsibility in the care of the environment, on what he calls the “common home”. No one can ignore the crisis that the planet is going through, because every inhabitant of the Earth is part of it and, therefore, must take care of it in order to survive and to preserve it for future generations.
Where can we see that this “cultural revolution” is operating at the Holy See?
The reform of Vatican communications implied a renewal in the way of managing information. An example on how this became a concrete step ahead was the welcome given to the new technologies, and using them to strengthen the human communion in diversity. This is part of a cultural revolution that shapes the reform.
Actually, the model applied in technology and in editorial lines allowed the creation of a multimedia, multilingual and multicultural platform where today content produced by more than 30 teams from countries of the five continents converge. Technology was put at the service of our evangelizing mission with a clear emphasis on human promotion.
If you check out the digital platform, Vatican News has a growing presence in social networks, with a clear task of providing quality information and offering elements to contribute to social debate. In the midst of an informative tsunami on social networks, where truth has taken a back seat and levels of verbal violence and disqualification are very high, the Pope told us in Laudato Si' that these "efforts need to be made to help media become source of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches" (LS 47).
The Pope has frequently spoken about the damage that digital dependence generates among families and societies. How does he link this to the ecological crisis?
As we can see almost daily, Pope Francis is very concerned with the effects that digital pollution can have on social relations, whether interpersonal or intercommunal. The mediatization through screens and the loss of the presence of the interlocutor have favoured a depersonalization of intersubjective communication. He says that one of the great risks of this generalized mode of human communication is that it "enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim" (LS 47). He has insisted on the urgent need to detach oneself from devices so as not to dehumanize oneself.
But the responsibility for promoting an education for the usage of technology on a human scale lies primarily with education within the family. A person cannot get upset and complain because his or her children are always connected to an electronic device. Before that, that person must ask him or herself how much time he or she shares with his or her children, and if that is truly quality time.
Can you give some examples on how Pope Francis contributes to this revolution through the social media?
The level of followers of the Holy Father’s personal accounts are enormous, he is a phenomenon! His Instagram account has 6 million followers, and on Twitter he has 47 million followers, making him the second most followed world leader. But what I would like to highlight is that, unlike many, the Pope does not use his accounts to polemicize, assault or disqualify, but through them transmits what could be summed up as the Gospel of Tenderness.
With the concept of Tenderness he synthesizes the approach to a world wounded by hatred, war and the marginalization of the helpless and that, therefore, requires knowing a God who comes to meet him to heal its wounds. This is the permanent tenor of the Pope’s messages, which contributes to generating a culture of respect and true love, personal and civic, that regenerates the face of earth. From his point of view, this is directly related to the environmental crisis, and that is why Pope Francis calls for an integral ecological conversion that encourages contemporary development so that it is truly human progress and not merely technical evolution.
How has Pope Francis included technology as part of his Pontificate?
From the point of view of Technologies of Information and Communications, he has been really enthusiastic about taking advantage of social networks in order to reach more and more people with the Gospel. He is very active and involved in producing content of all the posts that originate from his different digital accounts, so we can say that he contributes to this tech and cultural revolution at the Holy See.
The Pope knows perfectly well that the actual culture is increasingly and deeply affected by technology. And despite, of course, not being a geek, he is very aware of the importance of using technology properly in the mission of the Church, both, for governing it and for being a Pastor to the People of God. That is why he is wide open to receiving all kinds of suggestions about the usage of technology and to support it in the implementation of new structures and projects at the Vatican, always wanting to be closer to people and to increase the missionary dimension of the Church.
I think Pope Francis made a very consistent synthesis of his personal thoughts about technologies the day he opened his Instagram channel. In his first post he stated: «I am beginning a new journey, on Instagram, to walk with you along the path of mercy and the tenderness of God».