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The Stadium Encyclical You Haven’t Heard About

The new encyclical, Laudato Si’, promulgated by Pope Francis has been heralded as a groundbreaking document. Others have lamented the fact that it was ever written. Having not read the entire thing word-for-word I cannot argue one way or another, and I don’t intend to, although in what I have read it clearly does address the need to protect the environment. In our American parlance we might say it advocates for “going green.” The proper reaction is to read it in light of the consistent teachings of the magisterium for centuries: that we are commanded to be good stewards of the earth.

One sentence that gets to the heart of the issue is from paragraph 222:

“Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption.”

That can sound lofty and far-fetched. It’s easy to think that these problems can be addressed through local, state, national, and even international policies. It can be challenging to follow this command in our daily lives. Furthermore, Laudato can also read like an article in National Geographic when it laments the lack of access to clean drinking water in many parts of the world, among other things. That is not a problem Americans typically face. So, how can we localize Laudato?

When talking about the protecting the environment and “going green” we don’t often think immediately of sporting events and their impact. Such conversations tend to focus on manufacturing and automobile use, two areas where undoubtedly some pollution does occur. However, one need only ponder the amount of electricity used during a single game at stadiums like Busch Stadium or the Scottrade Center to quickly realize that the sporting events held there have a large impact on the environment. Additionally, one might consider the waste generated, the fuel used by the fans to attend the game, and even the amount of water required for all the restrooms. And let’s not even talk about NASCAR racing.

This is not to say we should not have sporting events, that they’re not needed, or anything of the sort. In fact, it’s probably safe to say most professional leagues and franchises — if not all — realize the impact they have on the environment and have embraced their ability to make positive changes. No doubt you noticed on your last trip to a Cardinals game just how many recycling receptacles are around. These efforts when taken together are a good thing and should be continued.

Renderings of a proposed riverfront stadium in downtown St. Louis – via HOK

Yet, we also see in our St. Louis community an on-going and passionate debate (at least among sports fans) over whether or not to build a new billion-dollar stadium north of downtown. Much of the discussion boils down to two main points: how to pay for such a stadium, and whether or not building it will keep the Rams in St. Louis. It seems a foregone conclusion that the powers-that-be need and want a new stadium.

But why? We already have an existing stadium in the Edward Jones Done that is a mere twenty years old. Sure, it’s nice to see the computer renderings of a shiny new stadium on the riverfront with the potential to revitalize the immediate area. But at what cost? In his new encyclical, Pope Francis repeatedly laments the “throwaway culture” of our modern world. If not a “throwaway” mentality, what then is driving this desire for a new stadium? It’s not the need to accommodate more fans. It’s not for safety, or because the stadium is beyond repair; a twenty-year-old stadium cannot be so far outdated that the idea of renovation should be dismissed out of hand. Yet, that’s the impression. What does it say about us? Pope Francis may have an answer.

“A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment… Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things… and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures.” (222)

On the other hand, there may be good reasons for building a new stadium. You could reasonably make an argument in light of Laudato that the expense of heating and cooling a domed stadium and the potential harmful effects on the environment are enough to build a new, open-air stadium. That’s reasonable, though it seems to be a forgotten point in the debate.

At the very least, our community should be having a discussion about the merits of building a new stadium, especially now that we have the lens of Laudato Si’.

*The Archdiocese of St. Louis does not have an official position on this policy matter, and this blog post is not intended to endorse or oppose any particular proposal.