Submitted by Jeff Odendahl
Francis of Assisi was ahead of his time. Until recently, Catholics, like most other Christians, were not overly concerned about care of the Earth. That changed, however, as signs of environmental degradation began to appear on the planet. Pope John Paul II took notice in 1990 when he issued a pastoral letter entitled Ecological Responsibility. The Pope’s message gave voice to a growing concern within the Catholic Church for new ways to look at the Bible’s Creation stories, and to better understand our relationship with and responsibility for the environment. The letter examined Jesus’ teachings about care for Creation and care for poor people, and specifically noted the good work of St. Francis of Assisi and other Catholic saints in this area.
In the years following the Pope’s letter, the US bishops began to express significant concern for how our human actions affect the Earth. The USCCB established an Environmental Justice Program, and began collaborating with other Catholic organizations to advance public policies affecting the environment. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the bishops began to focus more on climate change as the most pervasive threat to the environment.
The Catholic Coalition on Climate Change was created in 2006 with the support of both the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. Membership in the Coalition includes the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM), Catholic Health Association (CHA), and Franciscan Action Network (FAN), as well as eight other national Catholic organizations. The coalition’s primary purpose is to provide advice and assistance to the USCCB in the implementation of its programs related to environmental justice. It does this through articles on its website as well as through workshops and presentations. It also offers some small grants geared to helping Catholic dioceses and organizations partner on developing programs at the local level.
The Coalition’s mission is to show respect for God’s Creation by focusing on the link between creation and poverty embodied in the life and ministry of St. Francis of Assisi. To accomplish this, it strives to move discussion (and action) on climate change beyond the realm of merely scientific, economic or political consideration. Its goal is to create recognition that there is a distinctly religious and moral perspective to our human role in climate change, and responsibility to take action to remediate the damage we continue to do to our natural environment.
The St. Francis Pledge gives us a framework in which to engage our duties as stewards of creation. It includes prayer, education, self-assessment, action and advocacy as its components. It asks us, after prayer and discernment, to start taking some of the simple steps that will begin to make a difference. Always use natural lighting when it’s available, and turn off lights and other energy-using tools when they’re not being used. Use compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL’s), or the +improved LED (short for light-emitting diode) light bulbs. Walk or bike places whenever possible, and use the stairs instead of an elevator, if you are able. Remember the 3R’s—reduce, recycle, reuse. If possible, have an energy audit of our homes and businesses. Use the information obtained to make our homes as energy efficient as possible. Our economy has already produced greater energy efficiency through the use of roundabouts, geo-thermal heating and solar panels. It will continue to produce technology that assists us in our goal of greater energy efficiency. However, we must also realize that, as Catholics, we can’t wait for technology to save us from our own destructive habits.
Advocating the St. Francis Pledge includes knowing the principles and priorities our faith. For Catholics, this means really understanding Catholic Social Teaching and working to promote this teaching. Catholic principles and priorities include covenant—creation—and poverty. Those most affected by Climate Change are those in poverty. As Christians, we have a covenant with our Creator. God provided all of creation and all the world’s creatures to give praise and glory to the one we call our Creator. Thus, we have a responsibility to that creation and to the poor and vulnerable. St. Francis’ own environmental ethic was that we are one with creation, and, thus, we and all creation are also one with God. Franciscans advocate the St. Francis Pledge simply because it’s part of our spirituality. It’s a moral imperative. Pope Francis recently made a comment on climate change, saying, “We’ve overdone the subduing the earth. It’s now time to take some action against the use and abuse of creation.” Signing the St. Francis Pledge is an action we can all take.
Take the St. Francis Pledge; learn how to take care of Mother Earth at www.CatholicClimateCovenant.org