Awaiting ecology encyclical, Catholic groups prepare for pope’s message

By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Few papal encyclicals have been as eagerly awaited as Pope Francis’ upcoming statement on the environment.

While no date other than early summer for its release has been announced, anticipation is building among Catholics as well as non-Catholics and advocates for the environment. Based on the pope’s past statements, they expect the document will call people to protect human life and dignity through greater appreciation and preservation of God’s creation.

What Pope Francis is expected to say has its roots in God’s creation of the world, Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, told the First Friday Forum of Lorain County in Elyria, Ohio, in early April.

"Pope Francis is first a priest and a pastor," Misleh explained. "He is a Catholic Christian who is reflecting on and articulating the best of our tradition.

"Let us remind ourselves that our creation care tradition goes back to Genesis, not Earth Day. Let us remind ourselves that this ancient teaching is the teaching that was familiar, too, and articulated in new ways by Jesus Christ, reinforced by the witness of St. Francis, expounded upon by St. Thomas Aquinas as well as by St. John Paul and especially Pope Benedict, the ‘green pope.’

"Let us remember that what Pope Francis is offering here and will offer in the encyclical is not new teaching, but a new application of that old teaching," Misleh said.

That understanding has made it easier for organizations such as the U.S. and Australian Catholic bishops’ conferences, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic advocacy groups and local environmental ministry programs to prepare resources for disseminating and implementing the pope’s message.

Representatives of Catholic organizations told Catholic News Service they are not only preparing for active study of the encyclical in parishes and schools, but that they are hopeful the document will open doors with leaders of other faiths and religious traditions, secular environmental groups and policymakers in the U.S. and around the world.

The encyclical and follow-up programs also are being seen as a way to build momentum for Pope Francis’ first U.S. visit in September and move world leaders to reach a climate change pact during the U.N. Climate Change Conference meeting in Paris Nov. 30-Dec. 11.

"We want to ensure as best we can that this encyclical is not just written and stuck on a shelf in a library and discussed only by theologians and others in schools. We want this to be a call to action," said Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network.

Carolan will be in Rome May 6-8 to meet with representatives of the Global Catholic Climate Movement to discuss how they can best develop and share resources based on Pope Francis’ message. A handful of GCCM members were to meet with Pope Francis as well during an audience May 6.

Meanwhile, organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Climate Covenant and Catholic Rural Life are working on joint programs as well as complementary resources to share the pope’s document.

The bishops will discuss steps to spread the encyclical’s message during its spring meeting in June in St. Louis.

"As with any encyclical, I think the conference is going to give an analysis, a read of it, provide some content for people who want to get to know the document," said Mark Rohlena, director of the bishops’ Office of Domestic Social Development and its Environmental Justice Program.

CRS planned to highlight its work around the world in communities already affected by climate change, said Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president for U.S. operations for the agency. "We want to lift up those stories to illustrate what the Holy Father is talking about," she told CNS.


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