Pope Francis creates a climate for change

by | Sep 16, 2015

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof

Psalm 24:1

This summer I read Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home. I am a member of the pope’s intended audience, as are you. “Faced as we are with global environmental deterioration,” he says, “I wish to address every person living on this planet.”

Pope Francis has earned our collective trust with demonstrated concern for all who call planet earth their home. He speaks with honesty, breadth of knowledge, and deep compassion of how we must change in order to protect the earth upon which our lives depend. No one else can inspire as Pope Francis does, in large measure because he lives as he believes, wholeheartedly and with great love.

Laudato Si isn’t an easy read, but it can change your life. It certainly changed mine.

Francis summarizes in heartbreaking detail the state of the planet: pollution, waste, and our throwaway culture; climate change and its impact; the scarcity of water; the loss of biodiversity, the decline in the quality of human life; the breakdown of society, and global inequality.

In Francis’ view, everything is connected, but in particular, he asks us to see the relationship between the state of the planet and the plight of the poor. “A true ecological approach always become a social approach, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor,” he writes.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women concurs: “As leaders gather to discuss global climate change, a woman in Guatemala will struggle to feed her family from a farm plot that produces less each season,” she writes. “A mother in Ethiopia will make the difficult choice to take her daughter out of school to help in the task of gathering water, which requires more and more time with each passing year. A pregnant woman in Bangladesh will worry about what will happen to her and her children if the floods come when it is her time to deliver.”

“These women, and millions around the world, are on the frontlines of climate change. The impacts of shifting temperatures, erratic rainfall and extreme weather events touch their lives in direct and profound ways.”

While we may not yet feel the impact of climate change as directly, we are the ones with greatest capacity to bring about needed change. Francis laments our indifference and lack of urgency. “We continue to tolerate that some consider themselves more human than others, as if they had been born with greater rights,” he writes.

I was particularly convicted by Francis’ words on the impact of our throwaway culture and his call for a new lifestyle. Both personally and professionally, I live a globally lavish lifestyle and I participate in the throwaway culture, mostly for the sake of convenience. Part of my personal response to Laudate Si is to seek greater simplicity, and to change my habits of consumption away from items that are used and then thrown away.

Inspired by the encyclical, we are making modest changes in diocesan life and ministry. When you come to a meeting at Church House, expect to be offered a glass of water, not a bottle. Look for healthier, less packaged food when coming for a meeting. In the coming year, we will join with all institutions on the Cathedral Close in efforts to reduce our carbon footprint.

These are humble steps. How well I know that, as Francis writes, “Self improvement on the part of individuals will not by itself remedy the extremely complex situation facing our world today. The ecological conversation needed to bring about lasting change is a community conversion.”

Others in the Episcopal Church have led the way in that community-wide conversion effort and I give thanks to God for their example. We are so pleased to highlight some of our congregational initiatives, so that we learn and draw inspiration from one another.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, a passionate environmentalist, will speak at Coming Together in Faith on Climate, an interfaith gathering at Washington National Cathedral next Thursday. The list of speakers for this gathering is impressive, and you are welcome to attend in person or to watch the livestream online. That same group of speakers will gather Friday morning to watch Pope Francis, via livestream, as he addresses the United Nations.

While Francis believes that we have precious little time to waste, he does not lose hope in God or in our capacity as human beings to change our world for the better. “The Creator does not abandon us,” he writes. “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.” Citing the biblical narrative he exclaims, “All it takes is one good person to restore hope!”

Who among us does not want to be among those who restore hope for all who live on the earth today and for all who will receive the wondrous gift of our island home tomorrow?