“We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters…. The Church ‘cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.’ All Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world.
– Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel
This month, Pope Francis will release his much anticipated encyclical on the environment. Columban missionaries have joined with Catholics from around the world in the Global Catholic Climate Movement to prepare for this significant event in the church’s journey to both care for creation and to care for the poor.
What might we expect, and how should we respond?
The Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach has been working closely here in the United States with the Catholic Climate Covenant to develop a helpful framework for responding to the encyclical, including the following perspectives:
First, climate change is a moral issue. Pope Francis is speaking as a pastor offering moral guidance rooted in central Catholic teachings about care for others and care for God’s creation. To care for Creation is not to exploit it. The poor suffer the most when we don’t responsibly care for the environment, and we have an obligation to protect the poor and vulnerable.
Second, Catholics bring a distinctive and important voice to this conversation. Care for God’s creation is woven throughout the Bible and is an integral part of Catholic Social Teaching. We are a global church and are able to bear witness to the effects of climate change in communities around the world. Our unique perspective means we need to be a part of this conversation.
Third, the time to act is now. The scientific consensus on the link between human activity and recent climate change is strong. The impact of global warming may be seen in changing climate patterns and extreme weather events. Prudence dictates that we take heed of the scientific consensus and take positive steps now. At the end of the day, responsibly caring for the natural world is a global challenge and it needs a global response.
At a Vatican Workshop on Climate Change in April, scientists, world leaders and interfaith voices declared that “Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity…. The poor and excluded face dire threats from climate disruptions, including the increased frequency of droughts, extreme storms, heat waves, and rising sea levels…. Climate change mitigation will require a rapid transformation to a world powered by renewable and other low-carbon energy and the sustainable management of ecosystems.”
Respect for human life and creation are inextricably linked. Human dignity and the dignity of creation cannot be separated, for both bear the mark of the Creator’s hand. Human dignity, responsibility for the common good, protection of the poor and vulnerable, and a solidarity that links us to the global community and future generations invite and obligate us to care for creation and to care for each other.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is promoting numerous resources on care for creation and environmental justice, available on the USSCCB website. In the words of Pope Francis, “Let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”
FAITH IN ACTION: Ask Congress to Protect God’s Creation