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The Pope's next big encyclical could well be on the environment

January 28, 2014:

The Pope's next big encyclical could well be on the environment According to a recent Vatican radio report by Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, Pope Francis “has begun work on a draft text on the topic of ecology, which could become an encyclical.”

An encyclical is a letter issued by the Pope to his bishops worldwide that is usually intended to clarify an important point of theology or doctrine for all Catholic believers. After a series of other pronouncements on environmental issues in the first year in office it is a great encouragement to both Catholic environmentalists and the wider community of ecological activists that Pope Francis is prioritising this issue so early in his papacy.

His concern for the environment was apparent when the former Cardinal Bergoglio chose the name Francis, inspired by St Francis of Assisi. As he revealed to a press conference after his inauguration: " … the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we?"

Icon of St Francis on a wall in Assisi, Italy
A few days later, in a homily to the crowds in St Peter's Square, he described the Christians vocational role of being a 'protector": "It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us [. . .] In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts! Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened."

In recognition of these and other pronouncements by the Pope ARC joined with WWF International and WWF Brazil to send him a joint letter in advance of his visit to the World Youth Day gathering in Brazil in July 2013. The letter urged His Holiness to make the environmental struggles in the Amazon a Catholic issue, something he did when addressing an assembly of Bishops in Rio calling for "the respect and protection of the entire creation which God has entrusted to man, not so that it be indiscriminately exploited but rather made into a garden.”

In defining the Churches position on the environment Pope Francis will be building on earlier developments by his predecessors. In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI called a Vatican conference on climate change in which the Guardian reported that: "the Vatican had added its voice to a rising chorus of warnings from churches around the world that climate change and abuse of the environment is against God's will, and that the Catholic church, with its one billion believers, must become greener."

A later encyclical from Pope Benedict (Caritas in Veritate, 2009) included the observation: "The Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction."

In 2010 he also expressed his disappointment at the failure of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference when he subsequently addressed the Diplomatic Corp:

"Was it not easy to assess the great harm which an economic system lacking any reference to the truth about man had done not only to the dignity and freedom of individuals and peoples, but to nature itself, by polluting soil, water and air?" 

"The denial of God distorts the freedom of the human person, yet it also devastates creation. It follows that the protection of creation is not principally a response to an aesthetic need, but much more to a moral need, inasmuch as nature expresses a plan of love and truth which is prior to us and which comes from God."

Useful links

Pope Francis urges Brazilian Catholics to protect God's creation in the Amazon

ARC/WWF International/WWF Brazil: Letter to the Pope

UK Catholics: The Call to Creation

St Francis of Assisi - an inspiring life

More quotes from Pope Francis on the care for creation

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