In the past few weeks, Catholic Church insiders have been making predictions on exactly what Pope Francis’ encyclical would say. But the broad social and political implications of the document, released today, exceeded all expectations.
Several prominent Catholic GOP candidates have taken stances against the pope, even in advance of the document’s release. To protect their political interests, some of these politicians said the pope had no place meddling in politics and science.
But Pope Francis’ genuine appeal proves otherwise. His role in the issue of climate change does much more than take a political stance. He calls on us all, regardless of religion, to restore the beauty of the earth.
This letter humbles the human heart and calls all people to work in solidarity and with renewed faith. In the second paragraph he states, “We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”
It is this exact interconnectedness that draws us closer to God our creator, to one another and also to our sister, Earth.
As the Earth is crying out for help, it is time for us to listen and hear her pleas.
Pope Francis writes, “All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements, and talents.” And it is the combination of our talents that can alter the path of destruction we have traveled down for far too long.
Pope Francis paints the picture of this path all too well.
Commonly referred to as a “throwaway culture,” the lifestyle of Americans produces more waste per capita than any other country. This waste, combined with the warming of the Earth’s average temperature, will have negative effects for years to come.
Throughout the encyclical Pope Francis gives specific examples of the negative impacts of climate change — the melting of ice caps, air pollution, and disruption in rain cycles. Francis cares deeply about the human costs of these changes; the melting of the polar ice caps, for instance, could displace at least one fourth of the world’s human population through rising sea levels flooding coastal megacities.
Pope Francis’ message is abundantly clear: he warns us that current “symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption.”
We can no longer wait for future generations to solve the problems that we have all played a part in causing.
For most people, being disconnected from the production of our own waste is only exacerbated by our disconnection from each other. We rely on connecting with others through digital realms instead of in person. It is this isolated lifestyle, that Pope Francis says, “can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.”
There is an essential connection between communion between members of the Church and our communion with nature. As Francis says so well, “By developing our individual God-given capacities, an ecological conversion can inspire us to greater creativity and enthusiasm.”
J. Nick Stevens is a Loretto Volunteer who lives and works in Washington, D.C. Jes graduated from Fontbonne University in 2014 with a degree in applied sociology.