In a historic and far-reaching move, as part of Pope Francis’ efforts to highlight environmental issues, the Vatican declared Sept. 1 World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. Environmental concerns form a part of virtually every faith tradition, but the present threat of global warming caused by the profit motive has pushed the Pope to become more and more outspoken.
Six in ten Catholics believe humans have the responsibility to live with the earth’s animals and resources; but the 35 percent who say that God gave humans dominion, or control, over the earth, surely do not interpret that as a right to destroy our natural and only habitat. Time will tell how strongly local church leaders will follow the Pope’s clarion call; some will likely align themselves with traditional allies among the right wing in order to punish the Pope for his liberalism on this and other issues.
The Pope chose Sept. 1 as an annual day of prayer for the environment because it had already been selected by the Orthodox Church back in 1989. Aside from protecting the environment, he is also concerned about creating the broadest possible unity of religions on this subject.
Pope Francis said that the World Day of Prayer for the Care for Creation day offers “a precious opportunity to renew our personal participation in this vocation as custodians of creation.” The day should be celebrated “with the participation of the entire People of God: priests, men and women religious and the lay faithful,” Francis said, and should “become a significant occasion for prayer, reflection, conversion and the adoption of appropriate lifestyles.”
In June Francis issued an encyclical, “Laudato Sì,” or “Praise be,” concerning the environment, which roundly criticized the profit motive. Human ecology, stressing humankind as the principal motivation to care for the environment, is its theme. The statement took its name from the “Canticle of the Creatures,” a medieval Italian prayer by the Pope’s namesake and lover of creation, St. Francis of Assisi.
“Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience,” Francis said. The day provides the opportunity to ask God’s forgiveness “for sins committed against the world in which we live.”
In most traditions, prayer alone is considered insufficient, serving primarily as a means of concentrating the mind. It is most effective when united with action.
Environmentalists hailed the pontiff’s statement. Predictably, because the statement dares to criticize the capitalist ethic, many climate change-denying Republicans in the U.S. – a number of whom are Roman Catholic themselves – said that he should not be commenting on matters that don’t concern religion, such as the fate of the earth (!).
But the faith movement to involve itself in such concerns is growing exponentially. Evangelical leaders, many of them serving poor communities deeply affected by pollution of air, soil and water, are supporting Pres. Obama’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants. Retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa has called on the U.N. to “set a renewable energy target of 100 percent by 2050.” Muslim leaders have also called for attention to climate change.
Pope Francis will undoubtedly address the environmental issue when he visits the U.S. and the U.N. this month.
Photo: Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical “Laudato Si” has been welcomed by many environmental organizations of different faiths. Interfaith march of the world’s religions in Rome to call for climate action, at the end of June 2015. uri.org https://www.uri.org/the_latest/2015/07/environmental_justice_in_rome