Care for the Earth – Listening to Pope Francis

Jacek Orzechowski, OFM Justice and Peace, Resources

The papacy of Pope Francis has brought new energy and excitement to many in the Church. The Franciscan community gladly joins him in his call for a new evangelization. In this spirit, Holy Name Province has prepared a number of brief reflections on elements of Pope Francis’ statements and writings, particularly “Evangelii Gaudium.”

In less than a year, Pope Francis has managed to spark the imagination of millions and has shown that by approaching others with humility and concern, we can spread the Gospel message of love and reconciliation. He also has called us to care for the poor and to safeguard God’s creation, challenging the Church to recommit itself to this core part of our faith tradition.

We are at a critical juncture in the history of our civilization. What our human family does now will determine whether or not we will be able
to halt our suicidal rush over the cliff of irreversible damage to our planet’s life-support system.

Our American addictions to dirty fossil fuels and hyper-consumption have greatly contributed to altering the basic chemistry of our atmosphere. Climate disruptions, ocean acidification, destruction of rainforests and massive extinctions of species carry a high price. This price is ultimately borne by the world’s poor. For far too many, the Market has become the standard that measures all and defines our politics. But, there are other possibilities, other values. As Catholics, we have a long tradition of bold ideas and faith-inspired social change. We can demand a reordering of our national priorities to include the healing of our Earth and restorative justice for the poor.

Pope Francis bids us as the Church, “not to remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.” Pope Francis has repeatedly exhorted people of faith to safeguard God’s creation. In his Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” he also insists that we say: No to Sterile Pessimism. He writes, “In our times, divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by human effort and even beyond all expectations, are directed to the fulfillment of God’s superior and inscrutable designs, in which everything, even human setbacks, leads to the greater good of the Church.”

There are encouraging signs of hope, promising new approaches and fresh opportunities in this vein. Christians, Jews, Muslims and others are beginning to rediscover that care for creation is integral to our respective faith traditions. The great religions have accepted the challenge of shrinking the carbon footprint and integrating environmental justice into their teaching and advocacy. How many of you have heard about Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, Interfaith Power and Light, or Green Faith?

Young people are another sign of hope. Realizing that their future is being destroyed, they are rising up, claiming their moral voice and organizing for justice. Many young men and women involved in new social movements like PowerShift are now leading the efforts to help their colleges and universities divest from fossil fuels. These young people have taken a prophetic role in exposing the contemporary “Herods who plot death and wreak havoc.” That is, they shed the light of truth on the machinations of the powerful interests that spend millions of dollars confusing the public and derailing climate legislation.

Another sign of hope is the Vatican being the first country in the world that is now carbon neutral; just take a look at those extensive solar panels. Responding to climate change with urgency and vigor is a moral thing to do. It is also good for our health, job creation and the economy. It offers enormous opportunities. For example, there’s enough harnessable wind power in the Mid-Atlantic Bight to create electricity equal to 70 percent of ALL of America’s current generation. An investment in clean energy generates 3 to 4 times as many jobs as investments in fossil fuels. This represents amazing opportunities for new employment, the economic revival of cities like Baltimore, improved health, and stronger families. As leaders in the Catholic church – ordained or lay – we need to help incorporate care for creation into the core of life and ministry of our parishes and schools. It can no longer remain a peripheral issue for us, because it’s a profoundly moral issue. If we are oblivious to it, it will cost us dearly. We will lose our credibility and moral integrity, especially with young people.

Pope Francis has spoken against the culture of waste. We must respond, making make our parishes more energy efficient and supportive of clean energy. In the spirit of Pope Francis, our parishes and schools then could reach out to other faith and civic groups and work together to address local environmental issues. What a great opportunity to share the Gospel vision and demonstrate its relevance!

Ours is a nation, Church, and world experiencing change. This may cause some to hesitate, to long for times past. But, for the committed Christian, times of change are times of opportunity and renewal. 800 years ago, St. Francis of Assisi responded to God’s call to rebuild God’s house by embracing the leper, solidarity with the poor and reaching out with fraternal love to all God’s creatures. May God teach us what is ours to do today.