PAUL Lucas remembers the first time he read Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home) – he danced around the house.
He laughs loudly as his memory of that day comes back.
“I was just over the moon,” he said of Pope Francis’ encyclical as the Church celebrates the document’s fifth anniversary through the Season of Creation (September 1-October 4).
“Yeah, I danced around the house actually, after I’d finished the first chapter.
“(Pope Francis) lays out in the First Chapter the whole theology of original blessing, which is love – the great love of our God, and how we’ve been spoilt rotten, and then he moves on to all the issues that we’ve got to address, which we’ve all known about and not a lot of that is new.”
The retired Catholic school principal and Townsville Catholic Education employee said the other thing he loved about the Pope’s document was “this is now official Church teaching”.
“It’s a new moment in Catholic social teaching for the Church – to care for the Earth with tenderness, to respect every aspect of creation as an expression of the love of God,” he said.
“That’s not been official Church teaching before – that we are all connected – you know, people like St Francis, talking about Brother Son and Sister Moon and so forth.
“Even Thomas Aquinas and all the great theologians have talked about it but never has the Church officially put it into an encyclical and said, ‘Guys, this is now an essential part of your faith – it’s not just a green option, not just a nice thing to do … This is official’.
“As Pope Francis says, ‘it is essential to a life of virtue’.
“If you want to have any sort of practical faith expression then we care for all of creation and all its people with great tenderness.”
Paul lives happily in retirement with his wife Helen, surrounded by two of their three surviving children and their six grandchildren in Townsville, where Paul was born and raised.
The couple both battled cancer in 2012, following the death of one of their sons.
“After Dominic died (at the age of 29) it was a very difficult time for us,” Paul said.
Paul also had bouts of cancer in 2006 and 2018.
“So family and faith have been pretty important in the latter parts of my life,” the 76 year old said.
“I mean, it was always important but certainly when you’re dealing with those sorts of issues you have to rely on clever science, strong family and a really deep-seated faith to get you through.”
He was serious about faith from a young age and joined the Columban missionaries after finishing school, spending five years in formation with them in Sydney and Melbourne before deciding against becoming a priest.
He went teaching in Young, south-west NSW, where he and Helen were married.
They had three children there, and one of them died.
“Then a position came up back in Townsville when (religious vocations were falling) and they were looking for lay principals so I applied to my old school – St Joseph’s on The Strand – and was awarded the position, as the first lay principal in the Townsville diocese, and been here ever since,” he said.
After 13 years in that role, he worked for three years in Townsville Catholic Education’s Religious Education department and then returned to the schools as principal at the Marian Catholic School and then Holy Spirit school, in Townsville.
He’s retired now but still keeps his hand in with the Catholic Education office, working with teachers.
“For the last 15 years I’ve been taking teachers up to (Townsville Catholic Education’s) environmental education centre up at Paluma, called Gumburu – which I had a hand in establishing,” he said.
“We take groups of teachers several times a year, up to probably 30 teachers at a time, to work on their creational spirituality.
“And so when Laudato Si’ came along that was a real boost to us in that sort of work.”
Paul’s been living in the spirit of Laudato Si’ long before Pope Francis wrote the document.
“I think it was part of life’s journey. Even as a teenager, my friends and I used to jump on our bikes and go camping out in the bush during the holidays,” he said.
“When I was with the Columbans we did an enormous amount of bushwalking in Kur-ring-gai Chase National Park and the Blue Mountains around Sydney.
“In 1985, I went to study in Denver (United States), at the Denver University with the Jesuits, and spent a lot of time in the Rockies while I was over there.
“Probably that was the turnaround point in terms of my grasping an ecological theology, or creational theology.
“Then, when I came back, I was given lots of encouragement by the (Townsville Catholic Education) director and by the bishops.”
When the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference established Catholic Earthcare Australia in 2002 in response to Pope John Paul II’s call to “stimulate and sustain the ecological conversion”, Paul was a founding member.
One of the people who influenced him through Catholic Earthcare was Australian theologian the late Fr Denis Edwards who was one the 82 consultants who helped Pope Francis write Laudato Si’.
Paul continues as a member of Townsville Catholic Education’s Environmental Awareness Committee, and has been active in this area since the mid-1980s.
These days the heart of his passion for living Laudato Si’ is closer to home.
“I think that you can read so much and listen to so much … but the thing that’s been driving me the last 10 years are my grandkids,” he said.
“When you work with little children, they just don’t question.
“They don’t have to work for love; it just flows.
“When the little bloke (grandson) throws his arms around your knees and he says, ‘You’re my favourite Poppy …’ that, to me, is what Jesus was trying to do with the Apostles – trying to show them that their God is not remote, that their God is present and one of the great things is (our life) through the Book of Creation and with people and through all those sacramental opportunities …
“When I say ‘sacramental’, I’m not talking about the seven sacraments; I’m talking about every opportunity that you get every day, like with your grandchildren.
“Those opportunities are sacramental because they just send you another little message, you know, that you’ve got a God who loves you to bits.”
Paul’s grandchildren are “the ones who keep reminding me of the sort of God we’ve got, and they’re the ones that motivate me to say, ‘Gee, we’ve got to save something better for these kids …’”
He no longer has a favourite part of creation to go to.
“No, I’ve probably learnt to enjoy the western deserts, the rainforests, the water … Water was very important to me when I was working through my first cancer in 2006,” he said.
“I had to take six months off and most days I sat by the water, so that’s important.”
He’s reached a stage that wherever he is and whatever he’s doing to have a consciousness of being grateful – for “fresh air, the chirping bird, the soft dew on the grass under your bare feet (and saying) ‘Thank you, God …’”
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