Recent popes, Orthodox patriarch, Catholic groups insist climate change is a serious issue
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The nations of the world have a “shared responsibility to protect our planet and the human family,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, said Tuesday at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York.
Leaders from around the world were on hand to offer their perspectives on solving the problem of climate change. President Obama addressed the group and touted the progress made by the United States under his plan. He also pledged to share new technical tools and study data with the international community.
On Sunday, nearly 400,000 people jammed midtown Manhattan to participate in what organizers described as a “People’s Climate March.” The event was co-sponsored by over 1,500 mainly left-of-center activist organizations and featured celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
All of this activity is a precursor to next year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, to be held in Paris from November 30- December 11, 2015. The stated aim of that meeting is “to achieve, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, a binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.”
As it happens, 2015 is shaping up to be a big year for the environment in the Catholic Church, as well. Along with human trafficking and care for the poor, the environment has been a constant concern for Pope Francis. Now he is reportedly planning to make the environment the focus of his first solo encyclical (astute readers will recall that Lumen fidei is largely the work of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Evangelii gaudium is an apostolic exhortation, not an encyclical letter).
“Francis has already sent signals in his statements to date on ecology,” says William Patenaude, an engineer who writes at CatholicEcology.net. “He’s carrying on the same messages as his predecessors. Of course he will do so in his own delivery and with his own beautiful charm, but it will be the same message: the issue of ecology is intimately related with other moral issues, especially life issues.”
If the signals Patenaude alludes to are any guide, the new encyclical will likely reprise several now-familiar “Franciscan” themes. The Holy Father can be expected to blunt sharp distinctions between “human ecology” and “environmental ecology,” preferring instead to establish their interdependence. He will likely fix the care of creation within his ongoing critique of consumerism, materialism and capitalist excess. And he is likely to make the connection between environmental advocacy and the culture of life.
For a professional ecologist and faithful Catholic like Patenaude, it’s an exiting time. “Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were giants in their ecological thought,” says Patenaude. “Francis has a lot of catching up to do, and devoting an entire encyclical to the topic will be a wonderful contribution.”
The subject of ecology even has ecumenical momentum. Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, has long been a fierce environmental advocate. This year’s “patriarchal encyclical” to inaugurate the new liturgical year in the Eastern Church was devoted entirely to the environment. “The unlimited and insatiable exploitation of the natural resources of creation, which constitutes the primary cause of the destruction of the natural environment is – according to the witness of theology, science and the arts – the result of man’s fall, that is to say, our disobedience to the Lord’s command and non-conformation to God’s will,” wrote Bartholomew, who has been referred to as “the green Patriarch
But even as Pope Francis prepares his encyclical, the hard work of environmental advocacy continues. The premier initiative in the United States is the Catholic Climate Covenant, an umbrella coalition of groups ranging from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to the Franciscan Action Network. The Covenant promotes “The St. Francis Pledge,” which consists of prayer, education, assessment, action, and advocacy focused on the environment. The Covenant also assists dioceses, parishes, school groups and others to set up educational and other events.
On the evening of October 3, the Vigil of the Feast of St. Francis, the Office of Life and Family for the Diocese of Providence is sponsoring an “evening of Catholic ecology” that begins with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, moves on to a Franciscan Transitus Service, and concludes with concurrent workshops on energy efficiency, the effects of global warming on health, and building up local agriculture.
Bill Patenaude, who helped organize the Providence event, thinks it’s important for rank and file Catholics to understand the issues and get involved. “What can we do?” he asks. “Keep the education going. Let Catholics see that the Church is engaging the issue, not just the political left. Ecology isn’t something we have to add to our plate. It comes naturally if we truly seek to live holy lives.”
Mark Gordonis a partner at PathTree, a consulting firm focused on organizational resilience and strategy. He also serves as president of both the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Diocese of Providence, and a local homeless shelter and soup kitchen. Mark is the author of Forty Days, Forty Graces: Essays By a Grateful Pilgrim. He and his wife Camila have been married for 30 years and they have two adult children.