Pope Francis: ‘Revolution’ needed to combat climate change

Updated 8:07 PM EDT, Thu June 18, 2015
Pope Francis attends his weekly general audience in St Peter's Square at the Vatican on September 10, 2014.    AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE        (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Pope Francis attends his weekly general audience in St Peter's Square at the Vatican on September 10, 2014. AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Pope Francis gives his speech during his weekly general audience, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
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Pope Francis delivers his speech during his audience for members of the International Pilgrimage of the Ministrants at St Peter's Square on July 31, 2018 in Vatican City. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
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Pope Francis delivers his speech during his audience for members of the International Pilgrimage of the Ministrants at St Peter's Square on July 31, 2018 in Vatican City. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
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MALMO, SWEDEN - OCTOBER 31:  Pope Francis gives a speech during the 'Together in Hope' event at Malmo Arena on October 31, 2016 in Malmo, Sweden. The Pope is on 2 days visit attending Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration in Lund and Malmo.  (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)
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On Sunday (April 15) Pope Francis comforted a child who lost his father during a visit to a poor district of Rome, saying God has a "dad's heart".
During a meeting Francis answered questions from children and one of them, Emanuele, was too shy to speak at the microphone so the pontiff decided to invite him onto stage. The child started crying and hugged Francis and whispered his question into the pope's ears, saying he was afraid that his father, who was an atheist, could not go to heaven.
Francis comforted Emanuele and said that it is God who decides who goes to heaven and that, since God has a 'dad's heart', he will not abandon the boy's dad, even if he was not a believer.
The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics visited the parish of St. Paul of the Cross in Rome's Corviale neighbourhood and met with children of the poor district of the Italian capital and celebrated Mass for the parish community.
Reuters
On Sunday (April 15) Pope Francis comforted a child who lost his father during a visit to a poor district of Rome, saying God has a "dad's heart". During a meeting Francis answered questions from children and one of them, Emanuele, was too shy to speak at the microphone so the pontiff decided to invite him onto stage. The child started crying and hugged Francis and whispered his question into the pope's ears, saying he was afraid that his father, who was an atheist, could not go to heaven. Francis comforted Emanuele and said that it is God who decides who goes to heaven and that, since God has a 'dad's heart', he will not abandon the boy's dad, even if he was not a believer. The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics visited the parish of St. Paul of the Cross in Rome's Corviale neighbourhood and met with children of the poor district of the Italian capital and celebrated Mass for the parish community.
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Pope Francis marries flight attendants Carlos Ciuffardi, left, and Paola Podest, center, during a flight from Santiago, Chile, to Iquique, Chile, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. Pope Francis celebrated the first-ever airborne papal wedding, marrying these two flight attendants from Chile's flagship airline during the flight. The couple had been married civilly in 2010, however, they said they couldn't follow-up with a church ceremony because of the 2010 earthquake that hit Chile. (L'Osservatore Romano Vatican Media/Pool Photo via AP)
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Pope Francis marries flight attendants Carlos Ciuffardi, left, and Paola Podest, center, during a flight from Santiago, Chile, to Iquique, Chile, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. Pope Francis celebrated the first-ever airborne papal wedding, marrying these two flight attendants from Chile's flagship airline during the flight. The couple had been married civilly in 2010, however, they said they couldn't follow-up with a church ceremony because of the 2010 earthquake that hit Chile. (L'Osservatore Romano Vatican Media/Pool Photo via AP)
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Charlene, Princess of Monaco (2-L) kisses the hand of Pope Francis, as her husband Prince Albert II of Monaco (L) looks on prior to a private audience with the pontiff at the Vatican on January 18, 2016.     / AFP / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE        (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
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VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MARCH 29:  Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he leaves St. Peter's Square at the the end of Palm Sunday Mass on March 29, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. On Palm Sunday Christians celebrate Jesus' arrival into Jerusalem, where he was put to death. It marks the official beginning of Holy Week during which Christians observe the death of Christ before celebrations begin on Easter.  (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
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VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MARCH 29: Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he leaves St. Peter's Square at the the end of Palm Sunday Mass on March 29, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. On Palm Sunday Christians celebrate Jesus' arrival into Jerusalem, where he was put to death. It marks the official beginning of Holy Week during which Christians observe the death of Christ before celebrations begin on Easter. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
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As a former teacher, Pope Francis knows how to deliver a stern lecture. On Thursday, he gave one for the ages.

While slamming a slew of modern trends – the heedless worship of technology, our addiction to fossil fuels and compulsive consumerism – the Pope said humanity’s “reckless” behavior has pushed the planet to a perilous “breaking point.”

“Doomsday predictions,” the Pope warned, “can no longer be met with irony or disdain.”

Citing the scientific consensus that global warming is disturbingly real, Francis left little doubt about who to blame.

Big businesses, energy companies, short-sighted politicians, scurrilous scientists, laissez faire economists, indifferent individuals, callous Christians and myopic media professionals. Scarcely any area of society escaped his withering criticism.

“The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” Francis said. “In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.”

Francis’ bracing manifesto came Thursday in the form of an encyclical, a letter traditionally addressed from St. Peter’s Square to the more than 1 billion Catholics across the globe. Derived from the Greek word for “circle,” an encyclical is among the church’s most authoritative teaching documents.

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But Francis has set his sights far beyond the circle of his church. With an eye toward several key climate change summits scheduled for later this year, the Pope said his letter is addressed to “every person living on this planet.”

“I would like to enter a dialogue with all people about our common home,” Francis said.

Critique of modern life

The humble invitation belies the damning analysis of modern life contained in the 184-page encyclical, entitled “Laudato Si.” The archaic Italian phrase, which means “Praised Be To You,” appears in the “Canticle of the Sun,” a song penned by St. Francis, the patron saint of ecology.

Read the full encyclical (PDF)

Subtitled, “On Care for Our Common Home,” the encyclical was published Thursday in at least five languages during a news conference at the Vatican. The document was more than a year in the making, church officials say, and draws on the work of dozens of scientists, theologians, scholars from various fields and previous popes.

“We have a situation here,” said Janos Pasztor, the U.N.’s assistant secretary-general for climate change, “in which science and religion are totally aligned.” Pasztor was part of a team that convened with church officials at the Vatican this April.

The Pope’s highly anticipated encyclical recycles some of the now-familiar themes of his papacy: an abiding concern for the poor, a scorching critique of the idolatry of money and a facility for using evocative language to describe complex conundrums.

As the first Pope from the developing world, Francis brings a moral vision shaped not in the seminaries of Europe but in the slums of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

With language ranging from the majestic (lyrical poetry in praise of nature) to the mundane (take the bus!), the Pope put his signature stamp on a controversial topic and his moral clout on the line.

“Laudato si” is long on laments and short on specific solutions, though the Pope repeatedly urges deep thinking and dialogue to address the complex symptoms now plaguing the planet. In broad strokes, Francis calls for a drastic change in “lifestyle, production and consumption” from unsustainable habits to more mindful means of caring for “our common home.”

“What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” Francis asks. “The question not only concerns the environment in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal.”

And while the Pope calls for practical steps like recycling and improving public transportation, he said structural injustices require more political will and sacrifices than most societies seem willing to bear.

Nothing short of a “bold cultural revolution” could save humanity from spiraling into self-destruction, the Pope warned.

Though it ends with a prayer, many parts of Francis’ encyclical seem profoundly pessimistic, particularly from a spiritual leader known for his hopeful messages of mercy and openness. People no longer seem to believe that happy days lie ahead, the Pope lamented

Our care for the environment is intimately connected to our care for each other, he argues, and we are failing miserably at both.

“We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social,” Francis writes, “but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.”

The rich and powerful shut themselves up within self-enclosed enclaves, Francis argues, compulsively consuming the latest goods to feed the emptiness within their hearts, while ignoring the plight of the poor.

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The poor, meanwhile, find themselves on the run from natural disasters and degraded habitats, shunted to the bottom of the world’s pile of problems with decreasing access to its natural resources.

Francis saves his most challenging questions for modern consumers, arguing that humanity has become enamored of another apple – and this time no Eve or serpent are around to take the fall. The temptation may have shifted from a forbidden fruit to cutting edge technology, but the sin remains the same: hubris.

“We are not God,” the Pope warns, “The Earth was here before us and has been given to us.”

Powerful quotes from the Pope’s encyclical

’Bottom of the pile’

Though Popes since Paul VI in 1971 have addressed environmental degradation, “Laudato Si” is the first encyclical to focus primarily on creation care, the Christian idea that God gave humans the earth to cultivate, not conquer.

Even months before its publication, the encyclical drew criticism from conservatives and climate change skeptics, who urged the Pope not to put his moral weight behind the controversial issue of global warming.

Many Catholics and environmentalists, meanwhile, eagerly awaited the encyclical. The Washington-based Catholic Climate Covenant, for example, plans to send homily hints to the 17,000 Catholic parishes in the United States for priests to use during sermons this summer. The group is also planning media events with bishops in Iowa, California, New Mexico and elsewhere.

In the weeks before the encyclical’s release, Protestant pastors and at least 300 rabbis in the United States also said they were willing and eager to embrace Pope’s call for environmental justice.

A Brazilian group made even made a tongue-in-cheek trailer ahead of Francis’ encyclical, portraying the pontiff of a spiritual superhero gearing for battle against the forces of evil – energy executives.

In another sign of the anticipation awaiting the encyclical, the news that an Italian magazine had published a leaked draft of the document online on Monday made the front pages of several American newspapers.

From the first days of his papacy, Francis has preached about the importance of the environment, not only as a scientific concern but also a moral one. In his first homily as pontiff, Francis called six times during the short sermon for humans to protect creation.

The encyclical published on Thursday goes well beyond any sermons, delving into fields familiar to any Catholic, such as Scripture and theology, but also wandering into sociology, politics, urban planning, economics, globalization, biology and other areas of scientific research.

The pope has said he hopes his encyclical on the environment will reach a wide audience.
Vicenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images
The pope has said he hopes his encyclical on the environment will reach a wide audience.

Broken into six chapters, “Laudato Si” begins by cataloguing a host of ills wracking the planet: dirty air, polluted water, industrial fumes, toxic waste, rising sea levels and extreme weather.

The problem is “aggravated,” the Pope said, “by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels.”

If present trends continue, Francis argued, the changing climate will have grave implications for poor communities who lack the resources to adapt or protect themselves from natural disasters.

Many will be forced to leave their homes, while the economically and politically powerful “mask” the problems or respond with indifference, the Pope said.

The poor may get a passing mention at global economic conferences, Francis says, but their problems seem to be merely added to agendas as an afterthought.

“Indeed, when all is said and done,” the Pope said of the poor, “they frequently remain on the bottom of the pile.”

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Technology takes over

Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh called Francis a Marxist after he released another statement, called an apostolic exhortation, in 2013. In the statement, the Pope called trickle-down economics “crude” and “naive.”

Limbaugh renewed the criticism on Wednesday, accusing Francis of adopting “communist way of doing things: Controlling mankind through … governments backed by police or military power.”

Apparently undeterred, the Pope doubles down on his critique of modern capitalism – especially aspects of the free market – in “Laudato Si.”

“We need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that the problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals,” he said.

What’s more, the Pope called the idea that the “invisible forces of the market” can adequately regulate the economy the “same kind of thinking” that leads to the “exploitation of children and abandonment of the elderly who no longer serve our interests.”

In one particularly searing section, Francis compared laissez faire economists to mobsters, drug lords, illegal organ harvesters and human traffickers. All are part of a “throwaway culture,” the Pope argues, that treats human beings as just another commodity to exploit.

The Pope’s attack on the “myth of progress” is more surprising. But he connected his critique to a “worshipping of earthly powers,” where humans have usurped the role of God, imposing our own laws and interests on reality with little thought to the long-term consequences.

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In particular, he argued that our “cult of human power” and blind adoption of technology has been a Faustian bargain, offering a wealth of benefits, but at the risk of losing our souls.

“Life gradually becomes a surrender to situations conditioned by technology,” he said, “itself viewed as the principle key to the meaning of existence.”

“It has become countercultural,” Francis continued, “to choose a lifestyle whose goals are even partly independent of technology.”