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.

St. Francis did not see the wood for the trees

The Feast of St. Francis is celebrated in the month of October. St. Francis loved greatly. He loved God above all and loved God’s creation, other people and the wonders of earthly nature included. G.K. Chesterton, in his biography on the saint, reminds us that Francis never missed a moment to treasure the beauty before him, in whatever form it came:

I have said that St. Francis deliberately did not see the wood for the trees. It is even more true that he deliberately did not see the mob for the men…He only saw the image of God multiplied but never monotonous. To him a man was always a man and did not disappear in a dense crowd any more than in a desert. He honoured all men; that is, he not only loved but respected them all. What gave him his extraordinary personal power was this; that from the Pope to the beggar, from the sultan of Syria in his pavilion to the ragged robbers crawling out from the wood, there was never a man who looked into those brown burning eyes without being certain that Francis Bernardone was really interested in him; in his own inner individual life from the cradle to the grave; that he himself was being valued and taken seriously, and not merely added to the spoils of some social policy or the names in some clerical document.

We invite you to honor God’s gift of creation, the gift that St. Francis’ great love is to us, and the Church’s teaching on the environment with the following new resources:

Primer on Care for Creation

Pastoral Aids and Homily Helps for CST: Care for Creation/Stewardship

Please share widely!

Go deeper:
Visit the USCCB Environmental Justice Program.

The Church’s Best Kept Secret – Her Teaching on the Environment

They say Catholic social teaching is the Catholic Church’s best kept secret. In my experience as a Catholic, I know it’s true. Growing up Catholic and having gone to Catholic grade school, I hadn’t been exposed to a lot of the rich teaching of the Church on social justice.

Likewise, I was unaware of the Church’s teaching in an area close to my heart, the environment. I grew up with a love for nature, for the beauty of God’s creation. I focused my studies in this area, majoring in environmental science and later completing advanced studies on the environment and natural resource policy.

Through my studies and work, I began to be moved by the intimate relationship between nature and humanity, the interconnectedness of one and the other. My interest began to center on the impacts of environmental degradation, particularly on people on the margins (to whom Pope Francis has repeatedly drawn our attention). Who are those people on the margins? Communities of color and children living in heavily polluted areas. People in unhealthy work environments, such as in many factories or mines. And indigenous communities that depend on natural resources to sustain their livelihoods. I felt a need to lift up the voices of these people on the margins, those most exposed to environmental harm. This was my passion.

Then came a special moment of conversion, thanks to a homily by Father Pat Foley, during Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary in my home town of Minneapolis, Minnesota. At the parish where I was baptized, I discovered the connection between my passion for the environment and my Catholic faith. This was the first time I learned that our Catholic faith taught of a responsibility to be stewards of God’s creation, caretakers of the environment.

With this encounter, I began a journey that brought me to the Bishops Conference to help lead the bishops’ environmental justice efforts. Here I came to appreciate the Church’s unique voice on environmental matters and distinctive contribution shaped by the Scriptures, moral teaching and a compelling body of Catholic social doctrine.

For the Church, I discovered, concern for the environment and a duty to care for creation, began in the first verses of the Book of Genesis (cf. Gen. 1:28 and 2:15). Our love and appreciation for God’s gift of creation rings out in the Psalms, with the affirmation that “the earth is the Lord’s and all it holds.” (Ps. 24:1)

Perhaps one of the most important contributions of the Church today is to link care for God’s creation and the protection of human life and dignity, natural ecology and human ecology. This message has been echoed by in papal teaching from Pope Saint John Paul II to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and is expected to be a central aspect of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment.

In his address on World Environment Day, Pope Francis referred to the relationship between human ecology and natural ecology. He said:

“[C]ultivating and caring” do not only entail the relationship between us and the environment, between man and creation. They also concern human relations. The popes have spoken of a human ecology, closely connected with environmental ecology. We are living in a time of crisis; we see it in the environment, but above all we see it in men and women. The human person is in danger: this much is certain – the human person is in danger today, hence the urgent need for human ecology!

Pope Francis is calling us to reflection and conversion, to embrace a culture of solidarity and encounter.

Let us answer his call to be “protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

Calvo headshotCecilia Calvo is coordinator of the Environmental Justice Program at the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development. 


Go deeper:

Visit the USCCB Environmental Justice Program page and follow @CeciliaVCalvo on twitter.
Check out organizations supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development working for environmental justice.