The more I read and researched the faith community’s involvement as advocates for saving our planet, the more I was impressed, and encouraged by how much impact their commitment has had locally, nationally and internationally. It became apparent to me that scientists cannot make changes in global warming alone. They supply the empirical data that we base our judgments on as to whether or not our earth is in peril, and if we are responsible for its condition. The faith based leaders provide the theological underpinning based on a belief that we all are “stewards of creation”.
Another surprise for me was that despite the diverse traditions and beliefs the major religious communities have, they are able to work together on their common concern for creation. Abortion, gay marriages etc. seemed to pale in comparison to their mutual concern for our responsibility for the future of mother earth. In this commentary, I will focus on the contributions of Popes John Paul and Benedict, and the catholic bishops in confronting the dangers of Global climate change. In a future commentary I’ll provide an ecumenical view of how the various faith communities are working together to preserve planet earth for future generations.
STEWARDS OF OUR PLANET
The Stewardship movement is a shared sense of moral purpose; with roots that are in the beliefs of major faiths’ communities. All of our faith traditions call on us to serve the poor and vulnerable. In the case of global warming, the poor will be the ones who will suffer the most. In the Christian tradition, Jesus emphasized two great commandments, to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Most of us have the loving ourselves part down pretty well. It’s the love for God and his Creation and our neighbors that we need to work on. The catch is, our values aren’t our values unless we act on them.
The religious leaders provide the theological underpinning in their interpretation of our responsibility for maintaining God’s Creation. I chose to first focus in this commentary on the Catholic theology of stewardship and sustainability of all creation, not because it’s my faith tradition, but mainly because when we think of the life that God has created, and the Catholic Church, we usually think of about things they are against, like abortion or same sex marriages. We don’t immediately associate the Catholic Hierarchy with promoting God’s love for the earth that he created. I believe that if the earth is to survive, it needs all faith traditions to prioritize sustainability as the sine qua non for mother earth’s continued existence.
STANDING IN SOLIDARITY
“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – St. Francis Assisi
It seemed appropriate to include a prayer from St. Francis of Assisi, who in recent times has been declared The Patron Saint of the Environmental Movement because his life and teachings were models of living in harmony with nature and being at peace with the earth and all living creatures. The prayer, like St. Francis’ life is simple and direct. Also, many of us hope that the fact that the new pope chose Francis as his name, is a sign he was sending a message of how he intends to model his papacy on St. Francis’ life. At this early point Francis has made several positive statements about his position on our responsibility for the environment. His first homily as a pope at his inauguration on the feast of St. Joseph is a good example. In several paragraphs he makes an analogy of St. Joseph’s role as protector of the holy family to our role of protectors of God’s creation. Pope Francis reminds us that “…whenever we fail to care for creation, and for our brothers and sisters, the way is open to destruction and hearts are hardened….and later he continues…To protect creation, to protect every man and every women, to look upon them with the tenderness and love, is to open up the horizon of hope…” [LINK] It seems obvious, that if we are not protectors of mother earth, what else will there remain to protect. To paraphrase the Sermon on the Mount, Blessed are those who protect Mother Earth for they shall be the eternal children of God.
Up to this point, Pope Francis has continued to emphasize our role as protectors of the ecology. In an Audience he had with representatives of the Churches and Ecclesial communities of different religions, [LINK] He reminded the ecumenical group that, “The Church is likewise conscious of the responsibility which all of us have for our world, for the whole of creation, which we must love and protect.” In another part of his talk he pointed out that, “…men and woman, who although not identifying themselves as followers of any religious tradition, …are our valued allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building a peaceful coexistence between peoples, and in safeguarding and caring for creation.” Hopefully he will continue to prioritize in a ecumenical way the importance of supporting climate change and acknowledging the impact that our failure to act will have on future generations.
THE GREEN POPE
Francis I is not the first pope who addressed the issue of climate change straight on. Although many of us will remember Pope Benedict XVI for his deep-rooted conservatism and, on many levels his efforts to keep the Church from embracing the 21st Century; others will blame him for how the church’s child abuse scandal was mishandled, and how his views on contraception have contributed to the spread of AIDS, but I suspect that relatively few know that he was named the Green Pope. Whether or not Benedict should be given the title of Green Pope is debatable and not all that important. As far as his position on the environment is concerned, I believe there is little doubt that the stance he took was a progressive one. Given the alternatives of either denying the dangers of global warming or taking a neutral position, he chose to be a prophet for God’s creation.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
What Father Mc Donald doesn’t take into account in his article is the impact the writings and actions of both popes have had on the response of the People of God from the bishops on down, or perhaps from the faithful on up. I’d like to think of it as a shared interest. Since, I’m most familiar with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), I’ll just focus on a very few of the many initiatives that were stimulated by John Paul II 1990 message referenced above. Here’s one from Australia—the website for the Catholic Earthcare Australia. It was established by ACBC in 2002 as an agency of the Catholic Bishops Commission for Justice and Development. It’s a good example of how John Paul II’s call to “stimulate and sustain the ecological conversion” was heard and responded to in Australia. If you haven’t already, check their website [LINK] it has dozens of projects where folks can become agents of social change for the planet.
Here’s one project that ACBC is currently piloting; an initiative for schools, parishes, church organizations, and congregations to achieve ecological sustainability. It’s called ASSISI, an acronym for, A Strategic Systems-based Integrated Sustainable Initiative. Click here to find out more about ASSISI or here to check resources, references, and other projects. I have dozens of references but here’s one more from the 2002 Australian Catholic Bishops Statement on the Environment entitled What Can We Do? [LINK] It has a number of suggestions that you and I can take as shareholders of planet earth.
This posting on the website of the USCCBs is a good example of the type of advocacy the Bishops in the United States have taken. It’s under the title of U.S. Bishops Call for Moral Focus on Global Climate Change.[LINK] It includes a letter from the Chair of the Bishops Committee, Thomas Wenski to the members of the United States Congress. The letter refers back to 2001 when the bishops’ statement Global Climate Change A Plea for Dialogue Prudence and the Common Good, [LINK] which I believe is a classic statement that served as a basis for taking personal action. It’s a comprehensive resource for parishes, with information that catholics can use to better understand the connection between faith and the environment, and the urgency of dealing with “…the moral and human dimensions of climate change.” Then there is the Faithful Stewards of God’s Creation a book that the USCCBs developed which is also a resource for distribution to parishes, religious organizations, and schools that includes much of the information in the documents above, along with a DVD.
A section on USCCB’s website, A Catholic Resource for Environmental Justice and Climate Change [LINK] provides dozens of resources. Just click on one of the sub-titles on the left hand side of the page. For example, What are Catholics Doing provides description of programs in eight states and one region which received grants from the USCCBs. Now that’s faith in action! Another sub-title What We Can Do has four topics: A Personal Reflection, Taking Action in My State; Taking Action Nationally; and Taking Action Globally. You can also join their mail list for up-dates.
This is a short story about St. Patrick’s Grammar School in Chatham, New Jersey and their Environment Club, whose president was fifth-grader, William Brockman. To make a long story short, I just wanted to quote President Brockman’s wise words,
“There’s so much we can do to save the planet. At St. Patrick’s, we are learning as much as possible. We are environmentally aware. We need to conserve energy and our non-renewable resources. God has gifted us with the earth. We must do something to protect it.”
Out of the mouths of children… If you’re interested in the whole story, here it is [LINK]
Until the next time when the topic will be on the interfaith environment initiatives. I’d like to leave you with The St. Francis’ Environmental Pledge, from the Catholic Climate Covenant, [LINK] with the hope it might motivate you to get involved with environmental movement.
I/We Pledge to:
- PRAY and reflect on the duty to care for God’s Creation and protect the poor and vulnerable.
- LEARN about and educate others on the causes and moral dimensions of climate change.
- ASSESS how we-as individuals and in our families, parishes and other affiliations-contribute to climate change by our own energy use, consumption, waste, etc.
- ACT to change our choices and behaviors to reduce the ways we contribute to climate change.
- ADVOCATE for Catholic principles and priorities in climate change discussions and decisions, especially as they impact those who are poor and vulnerable