Someone has said that Pope Francis is really a Protestant. He is, if Protestant is defined as someone who protests. His recent encyclical Laudato si' is a protest against the often irresponsible industries as they pollute the environment.
Pope Francis especially protests the ways in which coal is burned in the production of electricity. He is right to protest. What comes out of the smoke stacks of coal-fed electric power plants is linked to 50,000 deaths a year, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility. Because children and the elderly among the poor are the most vulnerable, the pope, following his namesake, St. Francis, has a special concern for those that Jesus calls "the least of these."
The Vatican on Aug. 10 announced a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, the latest move by Pope Francis to push environmental issues up the global agenda.
The World Day will be celebrated annually on Sept. 1, in line with the Orthodox Church’s day for the protection of the environment, the pope said in the newly-released letter.
“As Christians we wish to offer our contribution towards overcoming the ecological crisis which humanity is living through,” Francis wrote in the letter, addressed to Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
THE POPE'S “climate change encyclical,” Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be to You”), is actually far more than that: It is the most remarkable religious document in a generation, offering a powerful and comprehensive worldview that is consonant with the Bible and hence profoundly countercultural. You owe it to yourself to take a few hours and read it slowly and carefully; you’ll be enlightened, but mostly, if you’re like me, you’ll be reassured. Reassured that someone powerful in this world actually sees our time for what it is, and understands the crises facing our planet for what they are.
Near the beginning, for instance, the pope discusses the “rapidification” of life, the sense that “the speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution. Moreover, the goals of this rapid and constant change are not necessarily geared to the common good or to integral and sustainable human development. Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it causes harm to the world and to the quality of life of much of humanity.”
That’s as useful a description of the last 100 years as we’re likely to get, that sense of life out of balance. It affects the poor, yes, and the pope is always most mindful of the poor—but it also affects everyone. The ever-more-technologized world we inhabit no longer makes us happier. It makes us stressed.
This morning President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency released the final version of the long awaited “Clean Power Plan,” a regulation setting legally mandated state-by-state reduction targets for U.S. power plants.
Power plants are the nation’s largest source of climate pollution, releasing around 40 percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions. Previously, there have been not been federal restrictions on how much carbon power plants can emit. White House adviser Brian Deese said the EPA rules represented the “biggest step that any single president has made to curb the carbon pollution that is fueling climate change.”
AS THE FATE of the world hangs in the balance, one humble pastor—leader of the world’s smallest nation-state—offers a word. Well, closer to 40,000 words.
Pope Francis’ much awaited social teaching on ecology was released in June to global acclaim and thunderous Twitterapplause. Laudato Si’ (“Praised Be to You”) takes its name from a line in St. Francis of Assisi’s “The Canticle of the Creatures,” written in 1225. The encyclical lays out the house rules for this earthly commons we share—archaea, bacteria, and eukaryota alike. (Google it. You, me, all the fauna and flora, are part of eukaryota.) So, what do you need to know?
1. The news is not good. The world’s leading spiritual physician has diagnosed “every person living on this planet” with a progressive and degenerative disease. A soul sickness has spread through us to infect the soil, seas, skies, and even the seasons. Among humans, the poorest have the least resistance and the richest are the major vectors. This disease multiplies in isolation and loneliness, with symptoms of obsessive consumption, greed and corruption, and habitual narcissism. “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.”
2. This disease is having dire consequences: objectification of the other, a failure of awe in the presence of beauty, and a defiance of reality by those who claim the “invisible forces of the market will regulate the economy” and dismiss the impact on society and nature as “collateral damage.”
Pope Francis correctly points out that while “we are not yet tearing one another apart … we are tearing apart our common home," and that not defending our common home “is a grave sin."
The scientific community, Pope Francis believes, “realizes what the poor have long told us: Harm, perhaps irreversible harm, is being done to the ecosystem," Through human-made decisions that resulted in pollution and exploitation, Pope Francis declared, "The earth, entire peoples and individual persons are being brutally punished."
“The task of cleaning up our environment calls for a total mobilization by all of us. It involves governments at every level; it requires the help of every citizen.”
Sounds like a liberal Democrat, right? Someone who has been using Pope Francis’s recent climate encyclical Laudato Si’ (“Blessed Be”) as a political bludgeon, wielded against “climate change deniers?” Nancy Pelosi, perhaps? Not quite.
With these words, President Richard Nixon concluded his plea to congress in 1970 to take action on behalf of the environment, stressing that this was “an urgent common goal of all Americans.” Nixon then gathered bipartisan support as he spearheaded the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and inked 14 laws related to environmental protection.
To be sure, Nixon didn’t know what to make of environmentalists, once complaining that they wanted everyone to live like “a bunch of damned animals.” Still, when a 2012 poll asked 12 leading environmental groups to rank the three most environmentally-friendly presidents, Nixon came in second — behind Teddy Roosevelt, a fellow Republican.
The interfaith element of the pope’s environmental message was reflected in the diverse range of religious leaders present.The interfaith element of the pope’s environmental message was reflected in the diverse range of religious leaders present.Religious leaders from across the globe led a “Many Faiths – One Planet” march to the Vatican on June 28, to show their support of Pope Francis’ groundbreaking environmental encyclical.
Organizers estimated a crowd of 5,000 people reached St. Peter’s Square to celebrate the pontiff’s tough stance on climate change, after parading through Rome under a canopy of painted banners.
The past 12 months of violence against unarmed black bodies continues to draw national attention to the ongoing challenge of police brutality in the United States. Under the collective action call of #blacklivesmatter, activists and concerned citizens across the country challenge the ideology of white supremacy undergirding our criminal justice system and demand an end to state violence against black bodies. Yet the #blacklivesmatter movement is about more than an end to police brutality; it is call for the health, wholeness, and vitality of all black communities and a world in which black lives are no longer systemically and intentional targeted for demise. This includes an account of the physical environment in which black communities reside.
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.
By choosing to focus on the plight of the poor and the groaning of the earth itself, Francis is tapping into something much deeper than denominational squabbles and political maneuvering. He is seeking to make an end-run around the tedious shouting matches of privileged contenders in pitched ideological battles. This is a pope, not of the pundits but of the people – and of the planet.
We’re all connected. Just as the body of Christ is one – despite all of our institutional and ideological boundaries – all of humanity, all life is one. We’re rooted together in the soil that feeds us, in the natural ecosystems that sustain our very existence.
Pope Francis is throwing the full weight of Catholic teaching, and his considerable moral standing, behind the fight against climate change in an unprecedented papal document on the environment that immediately makes the Catholic Church a major player in one of the most important and contentious debates of the next generation.
A draft version of the 192-page encyclical, which will be officially published on June 18, indicated that Francis wastes little time with climate-change deniers or his critics on the right — many of them within the church.
Next week, Pope Francis is scheduled to release “Laudato Sii” (“Praised be You”), his eagerly anticipated encyclical (authoritative teaching document) on the environment.
I have never seen such excitement – and controversy – surrounding an encyclical. It speaks to the extraordinary global presence Francis has achieved in a relatively short period of time. This feels to me like one of those rare moments when the Message and the Messenger can combine to change the world in a very significant way.
Why does caring about Jesus mean we should care for the earth? There are plenty of Old Testament passages about the lordship of God over all creation, but let’s limit ourselves, for the sake of evangelical argument, to Jesus. He cares about ecology because of his incarnation into creation, his miracles restoring creation, and his lordship over creation.
More than 300 rabbis — inspired by the climate crisis, the Torah’s call for a Sabbatical Year of releasing the Earth from overwork, and the impending Papal Encyclical on the climate crisis — have joined their voices in the Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis: a call to action to prevent further climate-fuelled disasters and work toward eco-social justice.
Rabbis from across the denominational spectrum, at this writing 333 in all, signed in support of the call in less than two weeks, and their signatures continue to grow.