On his plane trip to Manila Jan. 15, Pope Francis confirmed a rumour that has been circulating for many months — he is writing an encyclical on the environment.
The document has already been through three drafts, he said. Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, is leading the team drafting the text and it has been reviewed by Vatican officials.
While the contents of the document are not yet public, commentators are already trying to set the stage for its reception, with positive and negative comments about it.
A global campaign is emerging among Catholic individuals and organizations concerned about climate change and protecting the environment. The Global Catholic Climate Movement went public Jan. 14, coinciding with the visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines. The movement includes nearly two dozen Catholic leaders and organizations in Africa, Asia, Australia, North and South America. American partners include the Franciscan Action Network, CatholicEcology.net, Catholic Rural Life, GreenFaith and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
The global campaign will connect people around the world to carry out programs rooted in Catholic teaching on the environment, said Allen Ottaro, co-founder and executive director of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa, based in Nairobi, Kenya. It is also meant to support the pope as he prepares his encyclical.
The organization plans to invite Catholics to fast and pray during Lent for solutions to climate change. Patrick Carolan, executive director of the U.S.-based Franciscan Action Network, told CNS a rolling fast is being planned, with Catholics in a different country each day centring their actions on the environment during Lent. One day will also be set aside for Catholics worldwide to fast and pray together.
Pablo Canziani, senior scientist at Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council, told Catholic News Service that Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated a wide swath of the central Philippines in November 2013, has been attributed to human-induced climate change. Canziani discussed technical climate change issues several times with Pope Francis when the pope was archbishop of Buenos Aires. He says the pope agrees that environmental issues and social development issues are two sides of the same coin.
NCR columnist Michael Sean Winters wrote in his Jan. 8 blog that Catholic conservatives are making an organized effort “to rebut in advance whatever Pope Francis might say in his forthcoming encyclical on the environment.”
He writes: “The right wing is clearly very nervous about the upcoming encyclical. . . . I would add that the libertarian, spread eagle capitalist right which calls Acton (Institute) its home is right to be worried about the issue of environmentalism because their variety of capitalism has precisely no solutions to problems of environmental degradation and has, in fact, been a large part of the problem.”
Bishop Donald Bolen of Saskatoon told a Dec. 6 ecumenical workshop in Saskatoon (PM, Jan. 14) that the 2003 Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter, You Love All that Exists, raises three core questions: Why are environmental issues moral and faith issues? How do we reach parishes amongst division and indifference to environmental issues? and How do we speak hopefully?
Our Catholic tradition, he said, emphasizes human responsibility and care for the earth. He quoted Pope Benedict XVI, who said, “Every economic decision has a moral consequence.” Pope Francis says poor environmental practices are sinful.
Various political meetings have addressed climate change and environmental issues. No meaningful agreements have been reached. A 2013 UN summit on climate change in Warsaw, for example, was a disappointment.
We will wait and see what impact a religious document can make. The pope will address how present practices affect both the poor and future generations — something that should concern all of us.