Pope Francis Hears Cries of Poor, Earth

Colecchi headshotWhen Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope, he chose the name Francis for a reason. He wanted to take his inspiration from St. Francis, the man who loved peace, the poor and God’s creation. His encyclical, Laudato Si’, embodies those commitments.

Pope Francis says in a prayer, “The poor and the earth are crying out.” The question is: Will we hear and respond to their cry?

The world’s poor are already suffering ecological devastation. Extractive industries in Latin America often violate environmental standards, poisoning the health of children, women and men, and destroying aquifers and agriculture. Conflict in Africa is frequently driven by shifts in climate. It is no secret that the violence between Arab Muslim herders and African Muslim farmers in Darfur was driven in large part by competition for land as desertification robbed communities of pastures. In Asia, the devastation of the Philippines in the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan attests to how storms have intensified and poorer countries with fewer resources and less resilience are in great danger.

Pope Francis argues powerfully: “In the present state of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters” (no. 158).

He goes on to describe the kind of support developed nations, like our own, ought to provide to developing countries: “For poor countries, the priorities must be to eliminate extreme poverty and to promote the social development of their people. … They are likewise bound to develop less polluting forms of energy production, but to do so they require the help of countries which have experienced great growth at the cost of the ongoing pollution of the planet” (no. 172).

Pope Francis reminds us that population is not the problem, waste and a throw-away society are: “To blame population growth instead of an extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues” (no. 50).

What does all this mean? It means we need to act, to act as both individuals and a nation.

As individuals, we need to resist the allure of consumerism: “Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction” (no. 204). “The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume” (no. 204).

The Holy Father is calling us to live more simply and more fully! “It is not a lesser life or one lived with less intensity. On the contrary, it is a way of living life to the full” (no. 223).

As a nation, we need to pursue international policies that save the poor and the planet. Pope Francis calls for a “global consensus” to confront “the deeper problems, which cannot be resolved by unilateral actions on the part of individual countries” (no. 164). In response, our nation needs to support “enforceable international agreements” and “global regulatory norms” (no. 173). The United States will have an opportunity to do just that at the Global Climate Summit in Paris in December. One thing we should put on the table is a robust financial commitment to the Green Climate Fund, a fund to help poor nations develop in sustainable, “green” ways, unlike us, and to be more resilient in the face of more frequent droughts, stronger storms and sea level rise.

When we act in these ways as individuals and a nation, we will have truly heard the cries of the poor and the earth.

Stephen M. Colecchi is Director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Pope Francis’ New Encyclical

kim daniels“‘Laudato Si’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord.’”  So opens Pope Francis’ much-anticipated ecology encyclical, a hopeful meditation on God’s creative love that calls each of us to more fully respond to the central Catholic teaching that “the earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 183).

Pope Francis seeks to answer a vital question: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” His answer: a wide-ranging vision animated by the conviction that “we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it” (Laudato Si’ [LS], no. 229). He clearly hopes that this understanding of our connectedness – with each other, with the created world, and with those who will come after us – will reinvigorate a conversation to which all are welcome.

In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis is speaking as a spiritual and moral leader calling each of us to more fully answer the call to care for others and care for God’s creation. He sees the “ecological crisis” as first and foremost “a summons to profound interior conversion” (LS, no. 217). That conversion must begin with humility when confronting the results of human activity unmoored from God’s design.

This is integral ecology, and it’s at the heart of the encyclical. As Pope Francis says, “it is no longer enough to speak only of the integrity of ecosystems. We have to dare to speak of the integrity of human life, of the need to promote and unify all the great values. Once we lose our humility, and become enthralled with the possibility of limitless mastery over everything, we inevitably end up harming society and the environment” (LS, no. 224).

In linking respect for human life and dignity with care for the natural world, Pope Francis follows in the footsteps of both Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II, who noted that “respect for life and for the dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of creation, which is called to join man in praising God” (Message for the 1990 World Day of Peace).

The efforts of all three are rooted in Scripture and longstanding Catholic teachings. Those teachings remind us that when we don’t responsibly care for God’s creation, it’s the poor who suffer most.  Pollution, food and water insecurity, and conflicts over declining resources first affect those on the margins – “the least of these” Jesus entrusts to our particular care. There’s an “intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet” (LS, no. 16), and we have a responsibility to live out our solidarity with the poor in concrete ways.

That means that Laudato Si’ is also a call to action. We’re called to reject consumerism, resist a “technocratic paradigm,” and recognize that “by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion” (LS, no. 109). We’re also called to work for effective responses to climate change, “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day” (LS, no. 25). This will require “honesty, courage, and responsibility, above all on the part of those countries which are more powerful and pollute the most” (LS, no. 169).

Laudato Si’ is a reminder of the distinctive voice that Catholicism brings to important public questions. Our faith commits us to participate in public life and work for the common good, to recognize the dignity of the human person, and to work for those on the margins. Of course, any living faith is challenging, and Laudato Si’ challenges all of us to resist the “throwaway culture” wherever it arises.

Pope Francis has given us a rich document that invites prayerful, thoughtful reflection. It’s a remarkable invitation to a dialogue that’s just beginning about how we can best care for “our common home.”

Kim Daniels is a former spokesperson for the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Here are resources from the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development and our collaborators to help you explore Laudato Si’:

Links for April 21, 2015

Here are a few links for today.

“heed the voices of the poor who are impacted most by climate change … “
In his recent column in the Florida Catholic, Archbishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, writes about the challenge of climate change and how Pope Francis may address the issue in his upcoming eco-encyclical later this year. For more on the eco-encyclical and environmental justice, follow Cecilia Calvo, coordinator of the USCCB Environmental Justice Program, on twitter.

More on our great new children’s storybooks!
Merged Books
Lisa Hendey over at CatholicMom.com interviews our Jill Rauh on the great new storybooks, Green Street Park and Drop by Drop, meant to help parents and educators teach children to put their faith into action by pursuing both charity and service.

US and Canadian Church Stand in Solidarity with Latin American Bishops to Lift Up Perils of Irresponsible Mining

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, Archbishop Pedro Barreto, Bishop Roque Paloschi and Bishop Donald Bolen stand before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, Archbishop Pedro Barreto, Bishop Roque Paloschi and Bishop Donald Bolen stand before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

At a historic hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights yesterday, bishops representing the Latin American Episcopal Conference, CELAM, testified on the effects of exploitative practices of mining and extractive industries on communities and the environment in Latin America. Joined by Archbishop Timothy Broglio, representing the USCCB, and Bishop Donald Bolen, representing the bishops of Canada, Peruvian Archbishop Pedro Barreto, Guatemalan Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, and Bishop Roque Paloschi of Brazil detailed in strong and compelling terms the human rights, public health and environmental consequences related to operations in Latin America by U.S. and Canadian mining companies. They urged that U.S. and Canadian mining companies be held accountable to laws and standards that protect local economies, the environment, indigenous communities and vulnerable groups even when operating outside of the country.

The extraction of natural resources, such as oil, gas and minerals, is a central feature of modern economies. Without a doubt, extractive industries can contribute to economic development and opportunity. When exploited improperly, they also bring about social conflict, feed corruption, displace people from homes and lands, pollute air, rivers and seas and destroy people’s health.

The Church is deeply concerned about these practices. Catholic social teaching calls us to uphold the life and dignity of every human person, to be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters worldwide, and to care for God’s creation. As Catholics, we believe that those in poverty have a first claim on our consciences, especially when economies, communities and ecosystems are at risk. And what about economic development and profit? The profits that can accrue from natural resource extraction ought to be but a means to an end, the common good and the benefit of all. Pope Francis has strong words for the type of system that puts profit first and people second:

In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule. (Evangelii Gaudium n. 56)

The U.S. bishops have long been concerned about the impacts and consequences of irresponsible extractives and mining operations throughout the world, especially in Latin America. In recent solidarity visits, we had the amazing opportunity to accompany bishops from the United States, including Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, to South and Central America. We heard powerful testimonials from community members, civil society organizations and religious men and women. We also heard from bishops advocating for their communities’ rights to live in a healthy environment and to have a say in the decisions that affect them. It was a moving experience to see how the lives of community members are impacted by irresponsible mining practices, and inspiring to witness their struggle for their rights to live out their dignity as God’s children, even in the face of persecution.

Bishop Pates meets with community members during a meeting in Guatemala on the effects of mining.

Bishop Pates meets with community members during a meeting in Guatemala on the effects of mining.

In Honduras, we visited a community near a mining site in Siria Valley. There we met with young children at an elementary school, beautiful and bright, who had rashes on their faces, arms and bodies from exposure to air and water pollution from the lead, arsenic, cyanide and cadmium used in mining. We met an 8 year old boy suffering from neurological damage and physical leg deformities that did not permit him to walk. In Guatemala, an indigenous woman told us, “You are lucky. In your county the life of a tree is respected, the life of a bird is protected, but in my country the life of a person is not respected.”

In his letter of support to the bishops of Latin America, Bishop Oscar Cantú, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, observed that the United States, joined by Canada, “must do more to support the claims and interests of these affected communities. It must require that U.S. enterprises operating in these regions abide by the same standards of care for human life and ecology as apply to their operations in the United States.”

The authors with Bishop Roque Paloschi.

The authors with Bishop Roque Paloschi.

Cecilia Calvo is the coordinator of the USCCB Environmental Justice Program and Richard Coll is a policy advisor on Latin America and global trade at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Anticipating Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the Environment

Cecilia Calvo, USCCB

Cecilia Calvo, USCCB Environmental Justice Progam

Last Friday, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, was in Washington DC to join interfaith leaders at a Congressional briefing on climate change. He also published his thoughts in a piece in the Sun Sentinel, Pope Francis poised to weigh in on climate change.

In that piece, he suggests that before being a political, economic or technical issue, climate change is first a human and moral issue, one that will test the ethical resources of the world community. Climate change calls into question how we understand our relationship to the environment, how we structure our society and economic life, and how we respond to poverty. As he says:

We have to recognize the inter-relatedness of the various social, economic, political or environmental crises that confront the human family today. Fundamentally, these all are moral crises which require ‘new rules and forms of engagement;’ in other words, a rethinking of the path that we are traveling down together.

Pope Francis offers an apt x-ray of our current culture with a poignant metaphor: a culture of waste. This is an unsustainable culture, one that threatens to drain both our moral and natural resources, exploiting both persons and creation. To this culture of waste, Pope Francis asks us to consider building a culture of solidarity and encounter, one capable of addressing the great moral challenges of our time.

Cecilia Calvo is the coordinator of the USCCB Environmental Justice Program.

Sacred Rights to Land and Work

Samantha Opachan

Samantha Opachan

In Pope Francis’ Address to the Participants of the World Meeting of Popular Movements last year, he stated, “love for the poor is at the center of the Gospel. Land, housing and work, what you struggle for, are sacred rights. To make this claim is nothing unusual; it is the social teaching of the Church.” One increasingly common way rights can be disregarded is through unsustainable development practices that neglect both the environment and communities experiencing poverty.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) supports communities throughout the United States in their efforts to address issues of sustainable development. Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without putting future generations at risk. It places a special emphasis on responsible stewardship of the environment, the needs of those living in poverty, and the development of individuals and communities.

The common good, the preservation of Creation, our rights and responsibilities, and the dignity of all people are interwoven. To promote the common good includes working towards a sustainable development that respects the dignity of all people. Our stewardship of creation and economic practices should not exploit precious resources or vulnerable communities.

CCHD empowers low-income groups to promote sustainable development in their communities through advocacy and economic initiatives. Since 2013, CCHD has invested nearly 2.5 million dollars and partnered with over 35 low-income community-based organizations and 31 dioceses in 22 states to support environmental justice.

One issue that CCHD funded groups are wrestling with is fracking. By rapidly converting rural and natural areas into industrial zones, the practice of fracking can negatively impact the environment and lead to adverse effects on public health and local economies. In New York, an ecumenical group receiving a CCHD grant, Moving in Congregations Acting in Hope (MICAH), recognized the negative effects fracking was having on their community’s farmland, livestock, public health, and water and air. MICAH supported poor and working families to mobilize resources, build relationships and take action. Their successful efforts helped protect their community from potential drill sites.

CCHD funded groups are also helping to create economic opportunities that protect the environment for low-income communities. Appalachia is a region of our nation devastated by lack of employment. Manufacturing substantially left many southern communities in the late 1990’s. Opportunity Threads, a worker-owned cut and sew cooperative in Western North Carolina, recognized that the textile industry needed to be innovative and predicated their business model on community centeredness and sustainability. Opportunity Threads works for positive environmental, economic and social impacts for both clients and workers. They exemplify an environmentally and economically sustainable model by focusing on production that uses organic cotton and reusable materials, as well as advancing the skills of workers and promoting fair labor. Opportunity Threads has grown into a strong business that will lead to lasting social, economic and environmental change in an Appalachia community that has traditionally struggled.

Our faith calls us to be good stewards of the environment. Sustainable practices support the protection of the both the environment and communities which are most vulnerable. For more information about the environmental justice work of CCHD groups and their communities, check out these Stories of Hope.

Samantha Opachan is an intern with the USCCB Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the Environmental Justice Program. She is a Master of Social Work student at The Catholic University of America.

Climate Change & Environmental Stewardship

At the USCCB on October 20, Archbishop Thomas Wenski and the USCCB Environmental Justice Program hosted a gathering of national Catholic leaders, entitled Let Us Be Protectors of Creation: Reducing Carbon Pollution to Protect Human Life and Dignity. This was an excellent opportunity for the Catholic community to examine the EPA’s proposed carbon emission standards and identify ways to positively contribute to the ongoing debate and discussions. Archbishop Wenski provided the keynote address. These are the opening paragraphs of Archbishop Wenski’s talk, published in the most recent issue of Origins.

I am happy to be with you, Catholic leaders and public health officials, to share a day of reflection and conversation on stewardship of the environment and the proposed carbon standards. I thank you for the warm reception and your willingness to be here and participate today.

I would like to begin my remarks, and perhaps give some structure to our time, by taking note of an important and common thread for most of us gathered together here. We have chosen to come at the issue of stewardship of the environment from a Catholic perspective. Many of your groups claim an affiliation with our faith, and some of us are explicitly charged with carrying out this work on behalf of the Church. All of us seem to recognize something of importance in a Catholic connection.

If this identification with Catholicism means anything for us, we must ask ourselves what that meaning should be. Plenty of organizations advocate for environmental issues; there are no shortage of educational programs and interest groups talking about the environment and climate change. To qualify our work as something “Catholic” is to—consciously or not—draw in something unique about our place in the dialogue.

If this is true – and I think it is – then my reflection this afternoon will benefit by an examination of that unique contribution. Indeed, this will serve as the first main theme for our conversation today. From this foundation, I then want to place our dialogue about climate change and the proposed carbon standards within that framework, the framework of a faith-infused approach to stewardship of the environment.