Pope Francis' call to action on the climate crisis

Next month marks the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’. The encyclical letter takes its title from St. Francis of Assisi’s beautiful “Canticle of the Creatures”: “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth.”

Unfortunately, as Pope Francis writes, “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.”

Laudato Si’ is an important, approachable and challenging document that every Catholic should read.

“Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods,” the pope writes. “It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades.”

Through the lens of faith, the pope addresses problems like lack of access to clean water, a “throwaway culture,” loss of biodiversity and global inequality.

“Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming,” the pope writes. What choice do they have but to leave their homes in search of a better life? Thus, the pope notes, “There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation.”

Yes, climate change and environmental destruction are intractably linked to poverty, inequality and migration. Laudato Si’ is as much about the mistreatment of people as the mistreatment of our ecosystems.

Noting that some Christians “tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment” while others remain passive, the pope concludes: “What they all need is an ‘ecological conversion,’ whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.”

This conversion requires each of us to take action, which we can imagine in a series of growing circles.

Start with yourself. Are you doing enough to reduce your ecological footprint? Consider your daily choices, including energy usage, diet, transportation and purchases.

Next, widen the circle to your family. Have a meeting to discuss how you can better care for our common home.

From there, move to the community level. Look for ways to suggest changes to your parish, school and workplace to reduce your carbon footprint. Serve the poor and marginalized at your local food bank or St. Vincent de Paul conference.

Finally, widen the circle to include your city, state and country. Exercise your civic duty to hold elected leaders to account on climate change. Demand significant and sustainable change to preserve God’s creation for our children and grandchildren, while improving the lives of today’s poor and marginalized. And vote with your wallet as well, supporting sustainable and ethical companies and withholding your support from companies lacking a social conscience.

Laudato Si’ is a seminal document that takes a sobering look at today’s climate crisis, summons us to an ecological conversion and calls us to real and sustained action. Will you heed the call? 

Paul Litwin is a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Seattle, where he started the St. Francis of Assisi group.

Read the Spanish version of this column.

Northwest Catholic - April 2020