Tomorrow morning, on Thursday, June 18, around the time of daybreak in Massachusetts, the Vatican will be releasing Pope Francis’ encyclical on ecology and climate change. This long-form, authoritative teaching, entitled “Praised Be: On the Care of Our Common Home,” will examine the inseparable connection between climate change, ecological crisis, and poverty from a Catholic perspective. As I posted two weeks ago, no previous encyclical prior has generated as much attention or backlash, which has included eager outpourings, an anti-encyclical conference, and even one absurd viral video.
First and foremost, the pontiff’s encyclical will be a staunch declaration of climate change as a fundamentally moral crisis, an issue with deep historical roots in Catholic social teaching. As with these 7 Papal Encyclicals that Changed the World, the Pope’s climate encyclical will reshape the way that 1.2 billion Catholics interact with climate change as a challenge of their faithfulness.
Francis’ climate encyclical is as well-timed as it is historic. Dropping like manna from heaven, the two hundred or so pages of the encyclical predate the pope’s address to a joint session of congress in September.
In this, the pope’s actions join a litany of new stories in the past year that have energized momentum around climate change. The forthcoming teaching arrives on the heels of last week’s breaking news: the G7 commitment of highly industrialized nations to vigorously tackle climate change and to fund mitigation measures in the developing world. The encyclical follows the US-China climate deal this past November, an arms treaty-scale bargain for real emissions reductions as well as a symbol of climate cooperation between the developed and developing worlds, which an LSE study last week found has China is five years ahead of its own schedule.
These pickings comprise a harvest season of positive change on climate change that included the superabundant bouquet of windmills, Earth puppets, t-shirts and protest signs that marched in New York this September. The encyclical, together with these other forces, creates a momentous push “for a universal climate agreement” at the much-anticipated COP21/CMP11 United Nations climate negotiations in Paris this upcoming December.
What is the pope’s angle on climate change? Throughout his Petrine ministry, Francis has continually emphasized the importance of environmental stewardship, often through the lens of necessity for a preferential option for the poor:
“Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be 'protectors' of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”
Pope Francis' inaugural homily, Solemnity of St. Joseph, March 19, 2013. (Source: the Holy See.)
“Safeguard Creation. Because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!”
Homily during mass on May 21, 2014. (Source: Vatican News Service.)
“We must do what we can so that everyone has something to eat, but we must also remind the powerful of the Earth that God will call them to judgment one day and there it will be revealed if they really tried to provide food for Him in every person and if they did what they could to preserve the environment so that it could produce this food.”
For opening mass of Caritas general assembly, May 12, 2015. (Source: the Guardian.)
From all appearances, the pontiff will be pulling no punches with his historic encyclical, either. Climate Progress shares highlights translated from the Italian draft of the encyclical that leaked two days ago:
“A truly ecological social approach should integrate justice in discussions about the environment.”
“Never have we mistreated and offended our common home as we have in the last two centuries.”
“Unfortunately, if we scan the regions of our planet, we immediately see that humanity has disappointed God’s expectations.”
“The warming caused by the enormous consumption of some wealthy nations has repercussions in the poorest places on the planet.”
The pope’s bold words create a space for us all to echo his moral sentiments in the language of our own faith traditions.
Tomorrow, share the Pope’s encyclical with your pastor and request that they follow suit! Ask your pastor to preach as part of the New Awakening: Season of Prophetic Climate Witness, adapting the message of climate change as a moral issue into the parlance of your own congregation. The beginning of this season of prophetic action on climate change (launching on St. Francis Day, no less) is nearly concurrent with the Pope’s unprecedented address to congress, and anticipates the COP 21 climate talks. So let a sermon to your congregation join the cornucopia of climate actions this year, and help make 2015 the year we as a world collectively commit to turn ourselves around – to metanoia, repentance – on climate change.
Visit the Encyclical page on Climate Witness for a link where the encyclical will be posted tomorrow, as well as links to social media guides, with suggested uses for the hashtags #PraisedBe and #OurCommonHome.
Patrick Cage served as environmental intern at the Massachusetts Conference, UCC for six months in early 2015. He is a recent graduate of Yale College where he was an environmental studies major with a concentration in religion and the environment,