> Can Pope Francis do what no other leader has accomplished thus far?

Can Pope Francis do what no other leader has accomplished thus far?

May 19, 2015

Pope Francis
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He hopes so.

The world is anxiously waiting the release of his encyclical on climate change. He has been commenting on the subject almost since his first days as the Bishop of Rome and his actions to confront this issue have been building ever since.

His aim is to have all 1.2 billion Catholics around the world do something about it, thereby encouraging world leaders to stop their grumblings and address this issue, both in their countries and as a world community. He hopes to halt the warming of our planet and to turn our hearts to the Creator of all.

Why is the Pope so taken with this controversial issue? First, it is his name sake. St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology, reverenced creation out of reverence of the Creator. He saw all creatures as brother or sister. Some of St. Francis’ writings look like early environmental conservation plans. Shortly before his death, he wrote the “Canticle of Creatures,” a poem which is the basis for many hymns we now sing in church such “How Great Thou Art” and “All Creatures of our God and King”. In one stanza Francis writes, “Praised be You my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth, Who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.” He ends the poem with “Praise and bless my Lord and give him thanks and serve him with great humility.” So much more than a statue found in many gardens, St. Francis was a true leader of the faithful of his time and his message still holds true today. Pope Francis is embracing this message and bringing it to the world in the context of 2015.

In addition, Pope Francis sees climate change as a symptom of today’s culture, an ethical issue as well as an economic one. Biodiversity is declining, there’s more land and water contamination, and water rights are becoming privatized — evidence that we are not living our baptismal call to care for each other and all of creation. Pope Francis urges us to turn away from the golden calf of economics and worship the Creator of all instead. Reverencing creation means caring for our ecosystems.

Climate change also is a human rights issue. The poor and marginalized are affected the most by natural and manmade disasters. Those with means can move and start over, but those who are poor cannot. They cannot buy bottled water or food when drought dries up wells and withers crops or flood washes away the yield. There is documentation of climate refugees — people who have fled their homeland because of droughts, floods and rising sea levels. People afraid of losing the basic necessities go to war with those who have what they need. Pope Benedict’s theme for the 2010 World Day of Peace was “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.” This also is Pope Francis’s message, which will be developed further in the encyclical he is expected to release early this summer.