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Climate Change and Pope Francis

June 17, 2015

Laudato si                        2 Corinthians 9: 6-11               Wednesday 17 June 2015

In the extract of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians today I was struck by the following words:

The one who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide you with all the seed you want and make the harvest of your good deeds a larger one and make riches in every way. You will be able to do all the generous things which through us are a cause of thanksgiving to God.

This is the theme of what I’m talking about today, which is the forthcoming encyclical by the Pope on the environment.

God provides; we take what He provides; we work with it and produce wealth for the Common Good. Sometimes it doesn’t work well, and we need to be careful how we handle the world’s resources. But the source of them all is God, and we need to remember that.

We’ve all heard of the Amazon rain forests. But have you ever heard of the Belo Monte Dam? It’s under construction at the moment, on the Xingu River in the Amazon basin in Brazil. Not due to be finished until 2019, it will be one of the largest hydroelectric schemes in the world.

The idea is for Brazil to develop its infrastructure, increasing electricity production to respond to the needs of the people and business. In itself this is a noble ambition, a good thing, to enable the people of Brazil to flourish and reach their full potential.

But there is a problem. And there’s always a but. The Belo Monte Dam project is proving very controversial because of the effect it is already having on the fragile Amazonian eco-system. On top of that, at least 20,000 people living in the City of Altamira are expected to be forced from their homes; and because of the thousands of migrants workers coming to build the dam, the project has brought serious social problems, not least horrific drug use and prostitution, to the indigenous people in the Amazonian region.

The person with responsibility for the pastoral care of all the people living in Bishop of the Brazilian Diocese of Xingu is Bishop Erwin Kräutler – who was born in Austrian but is half Brazilian. Not surprisingly, he is strong defender and advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples and the protection of the environment.

Tomorrow morning in the Vatican there is going to be a press conference to launch Pope Francis’ second encyclical, which is called ‘Laudato si’. That means ‘Blessed are You’ in the old Umbrian dialect of the thirteenth century.

Why, you may ask, does the Pope use such a curious expression? Well, it’s because ‘Laudato si’ is a line the appears repeatedly in a prayer written in 1224AD by Saint Francis of Assisi called the ‘Canticle of the Creatures’, more meaningfully translated in modern English as ‘The Canticle of Creation’. It’s a prayer of praise for everything God has created – the sun, the moon, the stars, air, water, fire (which in St Francis’ time were believed to be the basic elements of creation). Another reason for using the tile ‘Blessed are You’ is because it’s a line that appears in every mass: ‘Blessed are you, Lord God of creation, through your goodness we have this bread to offer, fruit of the earth and work of human hands.’ It’s a reference to the mass and the important message that mankind works in a creative partnership with God to produce what is good.

As an aside, I can almost guarantee that the press will call St Francis’ prayer ‘The Canticle of the Sun’, which refers to just the first verse, but helpfully avoiding having to mention God or His wonderful act of Creation, or its link to the Sacred Liturgy of the Mass!

The encyclical being published tomorrow will be addressed to the whole world – Catholics, all Christians, people of all faiths, people of no faiths. Encyclicals always are addressed to everyone. We expect Francis to emphasize the moral imperative to address global warming because of its tremendous impact on the poor people of the world. It’s not a surprise that the Pope is publishing this encyclical – he made his intentions clear not long after being elected, to write an encyclical on the major modern problem of the environment. Coming from South America, he knows the impact of these on ordinary people. And it’s coming out now in plenty of time for the world conference on climate change meeting in Paris at the end of this year. As I always say, there is a reason for everything in the Catholic Church.

Who wrote tomorrow’s encyclical? The Pope obviously puts his name to his encyclicals, but in practice other people draft them, with his guidance. The first draft was prepared by the Ghanaian President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson, who was helped by a lot of other people, including those with practical experience of climate change, experts in the social effects of climate change, and world-renowned scientists. Amongst them was, helping to shape this latest encyclical, was that bishop from Brazil, Bishop Erwin Kreutzer. Their draft paper would have been checked by the Pope, and also thoroughly checked for its theological and political implications. The Church does these things very carefully.

What you probably won’t see reported in the media is anything about the wonders of the Creation, the wonders of the New Creation found in the Eucharist or the presence of ecumenical significance of the event. No mention of Bishop Erwin Kräutler or the people living in the Amazon. No references to Archbishop John Zizioulas of Pergamon at the press conference, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church and a sign of how close is the possible coming together again of the Western and Eastern Churches. No, I predict it will be painted as the Pope being an anti-business, left-wing environmentalist, and you will rarely hear God mentioned in all the reporting. I’m sure the presence of Professor John Schellnhuber, an scientist who is an expert in the field of the environment and an atheist at the Vatican’s press conference will feature prominently. No surprises there. But very sad.

There are climate change deniers. There are also God deniers. Now, which is the more serious problem do you think?

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