Pope Francis in Kenya: “We are confronted with a choice”

Speaking to the UN in Nairobi, the Bishop of Rome offers some of his most passionate and decisive eco-comments to date

Wrapping up the first day of his apostolic visit to Africa, Pope Francis addressed the United Nations at its headquarters in Nairobi with some of his most spirited and definitive eco-statements thus far in his pontificate and, indeed, in the life of the Church.

The address to an international audience—his first focused almost exclusively on ecology since the issuance of Laudato Si’—continued to refine and expand the integrated Catholic expression of the ecological, social, and moral issues of our time.

In doing so, the pontiff pushed diplomatic etiquette to its limits:

“In a few days an important meeting on climate change will be held in Paris, where the international community as such will once again confront these issues,” the Holy Father said. “It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail over the common good and lead to manipulating information in order to protect their own plans and projects.”

The strong language, cheered by many eco-activists, is of course rooted on the Church’s ancient and ongoing observations of sin at play in human history. With her front-line charitable embrace throughout the globe, and the faithful’s cries to their pastors—who share this news with their bishops, who send it up the magisterial chain all the way to Rome—the Church has seen and heard enough and is now unabashedly raising her eco-prophetic voice.

"We are faced with a great political and economic obligation to rethink and correct the dysfunctions and distortions of the current model of development." Pope Francis

“In this international context," the pontiff said, "we are confronted with a choice which cannot be ignored: either to improve or to destroy the environment. Every step we take, whether large or small, individual or collective, in caring for creation opens a sure path for that ‘generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings.’ (Laudato Si’, 211)”

With the highly anticipated COP21 climate talks just days from opening and Catholics the world over prepping to make their voice known, Pope Francis was especially eager to focus on that event. In what are expected to be his first major comments about COP21 during his African visit, the pontiff reasserted words from his 25 September 2015 address to the United Nations in New York:

COP21 represents an important stage in the process of developing a new energy system which depends on a minimal use of fossil fuels, aims at energy efficiency and makes use of energy sources with little or no carbon content. We are faced with a great political and economic obligation to rethink and correct the dysfunctions and distortions of the current model of development.

The Paris Agreement can give a clear signal in this direction, provided that, as I stated before the UN General Assembly, we avoid “every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective”. For this reason, I express my hope that COP21 will achieve a global and “transformational” agreement based on the principles of solidarity, justice, equality and participation; an agreement which targets three complex and interdependent goals: lessening the impact of climate change, fighting poverty and ensuring respect for human dignity.

The bigger picture

The international response to climate change is, in the pontiff’s eyes, one piece—albeit an imminent one—of the collision between fallen human nature and nature itself. With much of the African continent finding itself in the front lines of this conflict, the pontiff saved some of his most eloquent words for his hosts:

“Africa offers the world a beauty and natural richness which inspire praise of the Creator. This patrimony of Africa and of all mankind is constantly exposed to the risk of destruction caused by human selfishness of every type and by the abuse of situations of poverty and exclusion.”

He continued,

[w]e cannot be silent about forms of illegal trafficking which arise in situations of poverty and in turn lead to greater poverty and exclusion. Illegal trade in diamonds and precious stones, rare metals or those of great strategic value, wood, biological material and animal products, such as ivory trafficking and the relative killing of elephants, fuels political instability, organized crime and terrorism. This situation too is a cry rising up from humanity and the earth itself, one which needs to be heard by the international community.

Before his address Pope Francis took part in a tree-planting ceremony on the United Nations campus.

Br. Benedict Ayodi, OFM Cap., noted the importance of the ceremony. “The gesture of him planting a tree before his speech at UNEP was very well received," said Ayodi, the director of the Capuchin’s Rome-based Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Commission. "In Kenya it symbolizes life, blessings, and investing in the future.”

Earlier in the day the pontiff celebrated a public Mass at the Nairobi University Campus.

“In obedience to God’s word,” he preached, “we are also called to resist practices which foster arrogance in men, hurt or demean women, and threaten the life of the innocent unborn. We are called to respect and encourage one another, and to reach out to all those in need. Christian families have this special mission: to radiate God’s love, and to spread the life-giving waters of his Spirit.”

Pope Francis's official acts in Kenya will continue tomorrow with a visit to the Kangemi slum, followed by a gathering of youth and then the nation’s bishops. He will leave for Uganda in the afternoon and wrap up the entire African apostolic visit when he departs the Central African Republic on Monday. (His full itinerary can be found here.)

It is expected that today’s strong words on ecology and COP21 will be repeated and expanded on during his travels in great continent of Africa.

Photo: Allen Ottaro, CYNESA

If you like Catholic Ecology,
you’ll love…

A Printer's Choice

The sci-fi novel with a Catholic twist.

A Printer's Choice

Learn more

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.