A Franciscan Statement on Global Climate Change
A central insight of the Franciscan tradition is that the created world is a window into the divine that reveals God’s own beauty. For Francis all of creation was a manifestation of the goodness of God. His Canticle of the Creatures reminds us that all that exists – the sun, moon, stars, water, wind, fire and earth – gives praise to God, and that we humans and the rest of creation are dependent on one another and intimately interconnected. Furthermore, the tradition teaches that human beings find their deepest fulfillment and happiness to the extent that they learn to notice, appreciate and imitate this divine goodness and beauty. God’s goodness and beauty is manifested not only in the external, physical beauty of the world around us, but also in the inner beauty of ideals and actions marked by the virtues of compassion, goodness and justice. The Franciscan tradition speaks of human life as a path of beauty – a journey toward personal integrity and a deepening of relationships with other people and all of God’s creation. Along such a path of personal and communal transformation, we encounter challenges. One such challenge is global climate change. Unabated, it can lead to unimaginable suffering and misery for billions of people for centuries to come, and even to a collapse of our planet’s life-support system. However, global climate change also can spur humanity to undergo a profound spiritual and social transformation imbued with the values of solidarity, non-violence and inter-generational justice. Confronted by a crisis of great magnitude, we are called to harness the creative powers of the human heart, mind and soul to help create pathways to a more ecologically sustainable, just and beautiful world desired by God. Our Franciscan tradition offers valuable guidance as we travel this path of conversion.
For Francis and his early companions, this journey of conversion was not just a private affair to be carried out on a purely “spiritual” plane. Rather, the Gospel call to conversion had profound social, economic and even ecological dimensions.
The 13th century society in which Francis lived was characterized by a nascent market economy. It was a time of obsessive pursuit of profit and privilege, and appropriation of land and power by the wealthy few at the exclusion of the destitute many, accompanied by pervasive violence. Unfettered greed, the loosening of the fraternal bonds of communion with society, and a sense of entitlement on the part of the wealthy few became a dominant path toward advancement, security and freedom. Within this context, Francis and his followers set out to call individual people and their contemporary society to conversion. They did so by seeking security, freedom and fulfillment in solidarity with the poor and marginalized, and in communion with God and God’s creation. Francis’ insistence on strict poverty was not ascetical in a narrow sense, but expressive of a fundamental trust in the God of abundance and a manifestation of his radical commitment to live his life in gratitude and in solidarity with the marginalized, and in kinship with all God’s creatures.
As followers of St. Francis of Assisi, we are called to do no less than this in our contemporary context. Embracing the Excluded of Today – a document from the Franciscan Order’s Second International JPIC Congress – puts the challenges this way:
All the Friars and fraternities should awaken to a prophetic sensitivity, which would allow them, not only to recognize the poor and the excluded, but also to identify the processes of impoverishment and exclusion (causes, agents, victims, mechanisms, means, consequences, etc.), because it is only on the basis of this sensitivity that we can make options coherent with our charism.
Given that the poor, future generations, and countless species of plants and animals will bear the brunt of global climate change, it is imperative that we reflect deeply on this reality and speak and act prophetically.
The following reflection provides a Franciscan perspective on global climate change. It will highlight the grave dangers presented by this crisis and point out unique opportunities for a profound transformation of our society. Mandated by the HNP JPIC Plan of Action 2011-2012, this reflection seeks to assist the friars and our lay partners in ministry, especially young adults, in developing a prophetic response to global climate change within the framework of the Franciscan tradition.
In this document, we first will briefly depict the gravity and urgency of global climate change and underscore its impact on the poor and the biodiversity of our planet. Second, we will highlight some of the major factors that hinder efforts to address climate change. Third, we will point to the signs of hope in our church and society. Fourth, we will suggest ways in which Franciscans and Franciscan-hearted people could make a unique contribution in responding to the global climate crisis.
There is overwhelming agreement among the most prestigious scientific bodies in the world that global climate change is real, that it is attributed to human actions, and that the emission of greenhouse gases must be drastically reduced to avert devastating consequences. Given the great urgency and the scale of the problem, the international community cannot afford to delay further action to tackle climate change. Likewise, religious leaders from around the world have sounded the alarm and called attention to the profound moral questions raised by human-induced global climate change.
Read the full position statement by clicking here.