The Greenest Pope
Tags: catholocism, conservation, conservative, environment, faith, Pope Francis
I confess (I’m Catholic, it’s required) that when Pope Benedict XVI announced his abdication in late 2012, I was deeply saddened. This man had earned the title of “the Green Pope”, but his views on creation care had not yet reached the masses in the pews. There was so much more to do.
Prior to entering the conclave to pick Benedict’s successor last winter, the Church’s cardinals uniformly and matter-of-factly told reporters that the Holy Spirit would guide them in their deliberations. The moment the new pontiff’s name was announced from the balcony of St. Peter’s, I knew that I too should have put my trust in the Holy Spirit.
Francesco. Francis. Named after the patron saint of environmentalists.
He has been pope for less than a year, but already, he is hailed as “the Greenest Pope”. His message is ecumenical, and it is resonating across Christianity and other faith traditions.
Francis reminds us that our duty to care for creation is found in the first pages of the Bible --- in Genesis, where God tells us that he put man and woman on earth to cultivate and care for it. More profoundly, and more importantly in our partisan world, Francis connects environmental protection to Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament. In the Gospel of Matthew (25:40), Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of my brothers, you have done it to me.”
For environmentalists working in the real world, there may not be a more relevant sentence in the Bible.
- Defending unborn babies is a priority of conservative Christians, yet little is said about the more than 600,000 infants born each year in the U.S. with dangerous levels of mercury already in their bodies.
- Water is mentioned 722 times in scripture. We cannot live—physically or spiritually—without it. In our region, more than 40 million people depend upon the Great Lakes for drinking water. Yet, we have done little to insure the resource is sustained for future generations.
- Our generation has been witness to dramatic climate change, causing drought, starvation, mass migrations and inherent conflict, and super-charged storms—all with outsized impacts on poor people around the globe. Yet, we have not had the will to lead on the issue.
Pope Francis was recently named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year,” and he is reportedly working on an encyclical on environmental protection. Last year, 130 million people voted in our general election. With 76% of Americans claiming a Christian faith tradition (68 million Catholics alone), the Holy Father’s forthcoming work may open wide the doors to a new popular conservation movement.
In his first homily, Pope Francis foreshadowed his intention by calling each of us, regardless of where or how we spend our Sunday mornings:
“The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!”
Rob Sisson is president of ConservAmerica, a national organization of Republicans for environmental protection. He is a member of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters Education Fund board of directors.