By Nancy Brouillard McKenzie
This post is reprinted from a publication of the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach (CCAO) and used with permission of CCAO, an IVC Partner Agency.
In his papal encyclical letter Laudato Si’ On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis urgently asks “every person living on this planet” to see and take responsibility for what environmental degradation is doing to the earth ─ “our common home” ─ and the vulnerable poor.
Pope Francis goes further and asks for changes in our economy and lifestyles in order to save our common home. He asks us to reflect on these types of questions:
Do we see the environmental crisis that is causing among other things severe storms, typhoons, glacial melting, and fracturing of the earth?
Do we see the vulnerable poor who are bearing the burden of a climate change that they did not cause?
Do we see what a culture of over-consumption is doing to the world?
Once we see, Pope Francis urges us to enter immediately into a dialogue to save the planet for future generations.
While Pope Francis’ message is clear, many people read Laudato Si’ and see different things.
Columbans in 15 different countries reacted with joy and praise for the path that Pope Francis is taking for greater environmental justice in the world – the same central path that the Columban mission has taken for years.
Columbans have seen impacts of mining and drilling operations, including forced removal of indigenous populations from their land into slums, permanent damage to the earth, water contamination, and health issues.
In the Philippines, Columbans have seen the harmful effects of global warming that caused catastrophic typhoons and storms.
Indeed, Father Sean McDonagh SSC, noted eco-theologian and author, credits seeing the harm that deforestation caused to the land in the Philippines in the 1960’s as the impetus for becoming an eco-theologian, author, and environmental advocate.
Father McDonagh praises Pope Francis for moving the Catholic Church into the center of the environmental debate and, among other suggestions, encourages Pope Francis to hold a synod on ecology soon.
Members of the Catholic hierarchy around the world have also praised Pope Francis for boldly speaking out about the degradation of the earth.
Those who actively engage in climate-change discussions see damage to the earth from fossil-fuel extractions and drilling operations in their respective countries. They also witness the effects of severe storms and environmental degradation.
At all levels of the Catholic Church, people are working in different ways to stop assaulting the earth. Recycling, reducing energy costs, and farming organically are just a few examples.
Outside the Catholic Church, religious leaders and those associated with the World Council of Churches, have praised Pope Francis for becoming a leading environmentalist.
Other faith-based communities and groups advocating for countering the effects of climate change and environmental degradation on the vulnerable poor have reacted positively to Laudato Si’.
While positive responses to the encyclical have been plentiful, there also are some opposing reactions to Laudato Si’—even directed towards Pope Francis himself.
Some people believe that Pope Francis should make theological issues his top and only priority. They do not see how Pope Francis connected the environment, economics, morality, theology, and the vulnerable poor in Laudato Si’. They contend that there is no rational basis or need for Laudato Si’.
Deniers of human-caused climate change describe the scientific data that forms the basis of Laudato Si’ as “faulty,” “junk,” or “highly speculative.” They see the poor but argue that the solar system is the problem rather than human-induced degradation on the environment.
In the financial community, some economists argue that Pope Francis does not understand economic policies. They see a successful free trade market as one that depends on minimal interference from government regulation.
From their perspective, the changes to doing business that Pope Francis asks for would hurt markets and lower returns on investment. Those same arguments successfully prevented inclusion of any liability and damage clauses in both the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
Labor and environmental groups, however, strongly disagree. They argue that corporations should be required to pay for or repair damage done to the earth and indigenous populations as a result of fossil-fuel mining, oil drilling, or other harmful practices.
While President Obama and United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon welcomed Laudato Si’ for urging us to safeguard the planet for future generations and protecting the poor from degradation of the environment, not all world leaders have been as receptive.
Some of those world leaders are in countries where fossil-fuel mining and oil drilling occur. Like the financial community, they argue that they look to their constituents, not a theologian, to govern their countries. They also resort to denying the effects of climate change on the environment.
The crucial question for us all is one that Pope Francis himself asks: “What kind of world do we want for to leave those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (LS. 160)
Lord, we pray for more to see and protect creation for future generations and always champion the poor and vulnerable countries. Amen.
Nancy Brouillard McKenzie, an IVC Volunteer since her retirement from the federal government in 2011, is a volunteer at the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach (CCAO) in Washington, DC. The CCAO is the U.S. national advocacy office for the Missionary Society of St. Columban. The office serves as the line of communication between Columban missionaries serving in 15 countries around the world and policy makers in Washington, D.C. The mission of the organization is to work towards a more just, peaceful, and environmentally sustainable world by engaging in the political process guided by our faith and the Gospel.