In anticipation of the upcoming United Nations Climate Action Summit, Pope Francis has issued a message of environmental stewardship for this year’s World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. So, for the next month — the Season of Creation, concluding on October 4th for the feast of St. Francis of Assisi — observant Catholics will pray, reflect, and act in order “to reflect on our lifestyles, and how our daily decisions about food, consumption, transportation, use of water, energy and many other material goods, can often be thoughtless and harmful.” The climate crisis, after all, is not an issue isolated to science, but rather an existential one that requires us to take stock of some of our deepest held beliefs.
Pope Francis, whose papal name honors St. Francis of Assisi, called upon the global Catholic community to focus their prayers on their elected and appointed leaders, encouraging climate awareness and action from those charged with protecting their constituents. Government leaders, especially, should be prepared to “renew commitments decisive for directing the planet towards life, not death.”
It might seem incongruous to hear specific environmental policy recommendations from a religious leader, but Pope Francis urged our elected officials “to take drastic measures to achieve as quickly as possible zero net greenhouse gas emissions and to limit the average increase in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius with respect to pre-industrial levels, in accordance with the Paris Agreement goals.” Doing this, he acknowledged, requires a move toward clean energies and a more equitable economy.
Another unexpected suggestion? He advised that we tap into the wisdom of indigenous communities “whose age-old wisdom can teach us how to live in a better relationship with the environment.” And he did not forget to acknowledge our youth leaders like Greta Thunberg and countless other unnamed heroes who have clarity and wisdom behind their years. “Many young people all over the world are making their voices heard and calling for courageous decisions.”
As for our individual actions, Pope Francis challenges us to acknowledge our own agency in how we interact with the earth, something that he characterizes as one of God’s greatest creations. Regardless of your religious belief or lack thereof, his words resonate with so much truth. “Egoism and self-interest have turned creation, a place of encounter and sharing, into an arena of competition and conflict,” he said, citing everything from our carbon-intensive diets to the cars we drive. “Too many of us act like tyrants with regard to creation.”