Encyclical Charts New Path on Climate Change and Poverty

June 18, 2015

Church World Service adds it voice to the chorus of celebration from faith leaders around the world who have welcomed the publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change.

The encyclical is the Vatican’s first such publication on the environment and aims to be an urgent call for action, aimed at religious groups and people around the world. Quoting diverse sources including the book of Genesis, a hymn by St.Francis of Asisi, Sufi writing and Eastern Orthodox Christianity, as well as previous papal letters, the Pope calls climate change one of “the principal challenges for humanity today, with consequences for all of humanity.”

“Today, we applaud Pope Francis and his encyclical, ‘Praised Be: On the Care of the Common Home,’ for highlighting the role every person has in fighting climate change and the impact it has on some of the most vulnerable populations around the globe,” said the Rev. John L. McCullough, President and CEO of CWS.

Pope Francis notes the far reaching effects of climate change on the world’s poorest communities, who have too often been disregarded and forgotten. Likening their vulnerability to that of the planet’s ecological fragility, the Pope calls for:

  • urgent and radical transformation in both individual and institutional actions
  • reduced consumerism and preservation of all natural resources
  • greater focus on sustainability and equity
  • a fairer share of natural resources for the world’s poorest
  • greater awareness and urgent action to avoid further climate-related devastation and destruction, in which individuals, families, ecosystems, rivers, oceans and biodiversity are all equally at risk
  • increased attention from world leaders and greater dialogue between entrenched and polarized positions, and for
  • recognition that the world is fast reaching a breaking point with consequences for us all.

CWS particularly welcomes Pope Francis’ attention to the growing problem of water shortages.  Affirming that access to water is a basic and universal human right, Pope Francis also cautions that water resources are wasted by the rich while water quality and supply for the poor are diminishing – notably in drought-ridden parts of Africa where rural communities need water both to live and for agricultural production. Concerned that water supplies are increasingly privatized at a cost prohibitive for the world’s poorest, he writes that the world owes a “grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water” and issues a warning about the implications for food production and national security of unaddressed, and acute, water shortages.

Framing climate change so clearly in moral, ethical and theological language is a long overdue and much-needed dimension to a global climate change debate too long polarized between science and religion, between believers and so-called skeptics.

“This is a milestone moment for our Catholic brothers and sisters and the global community as a whole. Pope Francis’ mindfulness of the poor and the disproportionate burden of  the grave consequences of climate change they endure is a message we share,” McCullough said.  “May this be a turning point in the life-saving work of the church in the world in service.”