"We are losing our attitude of wonder, of contemplation, of listening to creation and thus we no longer manage to interpret within it what Benedict XVI calls 'the rhythm of the love-story between God and man.'"
+ Pope Francis
Pope Francis: "A critical moment"
Creation and climate change didn’t come first in Pope Francis’s opening address of his inaugural trip to the United States. Religious liberty took that slot. The family was on top, too. But the Holy Father devoted just about half his talk to global warming, which, he said, was “a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.”
With the first full day of his apostolic visit—on the Feast of St. Padre Pio—already in the history books, overriding themes were telegraphed by Pope Francis with the precision and diplomatic niceties that always make church-state gatherings a game of chess.
In this case, the Successor of St. Peter began his visit in English (which he speaks infrequently) by urging his hosts—the people and the President of the United States—“to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty.”
In opening with this issue, Pope Francis was making it known that he not only was aware that the United State's bishops have in recent years been concerned with the exercise of religious principles. He was agreeing with them. And he couldn’t have been clearer.
“That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions,” he underscored. “And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”
Later in the day, Pope Francis made an "unscheduled" visit to a convent of the religious order Little Sisters of the Poor. The order is embroiled in a court battle over federal requirements to provide birth control to employees that went into effect with the Affordable Health Care Act, commonly called "Obamacare."
It was, of course, the next topic—climate change—that brought the pope (and thus the Church) in agreement with the leader of the free world and many who are gathered now in Washington and New York for climate-related marches, rallies, and interfaith events.
Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our “common home”, we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about “a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change” (Laudato Si’, 13). Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them. Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities and our societies. To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it.
We know by faith that “the Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home” (Laudato Si’, 13). As Christians inspired by this certainty, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.
It's telling that Pope Francis referred twice to this "critical moment" in history. He uses the term when discussing climate change. He also used it when discussing marriage: "I will also travel to Philadelphia for the Eighth World Meeting of Families, to celebrate and support the institutions of marriage and the family at this, a critical moment in the history of our civilization."
With "critical moments" in history coming up because of both climate and marriage, and with religious liberty a dominant theme in his address, Pope Francis is certainly telling us what "integral ecology" means as he champions and condemns sacred cows of both the Right and Left.
It is also notable that when speaking to his brother bishops later in the day, the pope did not specifically mention climate change. Rather he spoke of the more pastoral issues of concern to the American Church and of many others: family, religious liberty, the failings of the Church, immigration, the proper means of encounter and evangelization, and the care of the poor. Once again, he wove all these issues together—with environmental protection—into what will surely be one of the more remembered statements of his trip:
The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature—at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent. No less important is the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church.
And again, notice the concluding emphasis he places on marriage and the family.
With regards to climate change, the Pope of the Global South has come to deliver a message for the Church and the people of the Global North, much as the video below does from our brothers and sisters of the South. Their message and the pope's have much to do with how America and the West consume and pollute much of the rest of the world.
If this makes you uncomfortable, be prepared to become more so as the pope repeats and amplifies that message in his address Thursday to Congress and on Friday in New York at the United Nations.
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About the Blog
Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.