• Amy Burvall

Laudato Si: Learning from Pope Francis About Creative Caring


On February 8, 2018 I was honoured to be asked to speak to Catholic Educators from Vancouver (and indeed, some came from the farthest reaches of Canada) at the exquisite Convention Centre downtown. In preparation for my talk on “Critical Creativity”, I gave a good read-through to Laudato Si, a beautifully worded letter by Pope Francis. My Twitter friend and one of the organizers, Rose Pillay, informed me that the conference theme was “Care for Everyone in our Common Home” – derived from the thoughts in Laudato Si.


I wondered, how could I tie in the Pope’s message with my thoughts on why we need creative thinking, what creativity is and how might we incorporate more of it into our classrooms and personal lives?

It turns out that a few passages were not only poignant , but completely relevant, so I created some special slides…


photo by my daughter (and it is unfiltered!)

This slide appeared after discussing a bit about why it’s so necessary to have agile, flexible thinkers in an unpredictable world full of daunting problems…folks who are able to hold ideas askew, go against the status quo, and examine things respectfully from multiple perspectives. Pope Francis suggests teaching in an interdisciplinary way, so we see the bigger picture. It really aligned with some of my slides on “making the disciplines dance together” by de-siloing, collaboration, and thematic teaching.

“The specialization which belongs to technology makes it difficult to see the larger picture. The fragmentation of knowledge proves helpful for concrete applications, and yet it often leads to a loss of appreciation for the whole, for the relationships between things, and for the broader horizon, which then becomes irrelevant. This very fact makes it hard to find adequate ways of solving the more complex problems of today’s world, particularly those regarding the environment and the poor; these problems cannot be dealt with from a single perspective or from a single set of interests”

One of the warnings in the Pope’s letter is that we have become disconnected from our Earth home by becoming self-absorbed – in effect too anthropocentric. We were meant to be stewards rather than masters of consumption and destruction.


I really loved what he had to say about appreciating all of nature’s creatures and elements…not only caring about them but respecting their role in the grand scheme of things. I like to think this is what Leonardo da Vinci was like, as he bought birds at the market only to release them (he was apparently a vegetarian)…to watch them soar and record, in his sketchbooks, the miracle of flight.


that’s a leaf from Vancouver I picked up on a “Wonder Walk”

I then moved on to certain characteristics of being “creative”, which should not be misconstrued with being “artistically talented”, as the lovely Howard Rheingold reiterates in his heartfelt foreword to our book:


words and voice by @hrheingold; animation and art by me

One of the aspects of creativity I always stress is having a sense of what I call “WONDERLUST”  – a general state of awe and wonder with the world…a curious and appreciative mind (see my TEDx talk for more on this).

It seems as if Pope Francis feels the same way…that this “openness to awe and wonder” will invariably improve our relationship with the environment. Perhaps it’s something like

Caring is Sparing…

…and we come to care deeply from first marveling.

“If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruth less exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs”

The dilemma with “ecological education”, the Pope seems to feel, is that we push information out without fostering the awe and compassion…that it’s all

facts without feeling


His solution is to improve the pedagogy. He challenges teachers to, in effect, make lessons more visceral, experiential, deep and relevant.

“…It needs educators capable of developing an ethics of ecology, and helping people, through effective pedagogy, to grow in solidarity, responsibility and compassionate care. Yet this education, aimed at creating an ‘ecological citizenship’, is at times limited to providing information…”

This was a perfect lead into my goodies on “Rigorous Whimsy” and “Critical Creativity” from my book with Dan Ryder:


I then shared all kinds of strategies and examples from the field of Creating with Words, Images, Stuff, the Body, Others, Social Media, and Sound. Of course, it’s always more effective to have a deep dive workshop but I hope attendees were able to take away a few ideas  and strategies they could incorporate easily in any discipline.

thanks to whoever posted this

I wanted to end on a few inspirational points. I usually share one of my adopted mottos, which is Vincent Van Gogh’s “make something good every day“.

The Pope offers something similar (but more of an intense challenge):


This really hits home because I’ve been dealing with the aftermath of being involved in the Hawaii ICBM missile alarm (you can read more about that in this post).

But the Laudato Si quote that was really sticky for me was the following

“Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope…”


And, as I left the conference hall into this beautiful land, you might have heard me sing a bit…


#popefrancis #cisva #creativity #IntentionCriticalCreativityintheClassroom #wonder #environment #conference #pope #catholic #Vancouver #amyburvall #ecology

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