Photo: Joe Ravi

The Catholic Church is making a grand effort to be more environmental following Pope Francis’ climate encyclical Laudato Si (Praise Be to You), which was published in June of last year. The letter details various means of fighting climate change, and has caused 19 percent of American Catholics to become “much more concerned about global warming,” according to a Yale University poll. Another 34 percent are “moderately” concerned.

Interior of St. Andrew's Catholic Church in Roanoke, Virginia, USA. (Photo Credit: Joe Ravi, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Interior of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roanoke, Virginia, USA. (Photo Credit: Joe Ravi, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

“The Catholic Church has a strong tradition of attending to matters of importance to the world the church inhabits,” says liturgical studies professor Teresa Berger. “In recent decades, ecological concerns have been of growing concern. The pope’s encyclical responds to these, in a quite natural progression of concerns that have marked previous papacies.”

Since the days of St. Francis of Assisi (dubbed the patron saint of ecologists in 1979), the Church has developed a reputation for defending its planet against man-made damages. Francis wrote the “Canticle of Creatures” in 1225, which praises the Lord through natural elements such as “Sister Moon” and “Brother Wind,” and descendant Catholics have simply taken things from there.

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis writes:

“Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political, and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day… The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish… Frequently, no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected… Climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.”

Responding to his words, several nations and their Catholic residents have adopted viable methods of conserving the planet’s condition. In Australia, for example, organizations such as the Presentation Congregation of Queensland and the Marist Sisters of Australia are limiting dependency on fossil fuels by turning away from coal, oil and gas extraction. Several Catholic schools throughout the region have also gone solar, a move duplicated in the United States. The Diocese of Camden in New Jersey is seeking respective installation for schools, parishes, and cemeteries, while approximately 20 parishes in San Diego County have completely switched to solar power.

Pope Francis. (Image Credit: Edgar Jiménez)

Pope Francis. (Image Credit: Edgar Jiménez)

“It strikes me this is one area where we can really help the environment, and at the same time, it is a sound practice economically,” says Bishop Robert W. McElroy.

But action doesn’t stop at the solar mark. The Virginia Catholic Conference is working towards ocean preservation, where rising sea levels have made flooding in Norfolk a common occurrence. A parish in Thailand has planted 800 new trees as part of a reforestation program, and Spain’s Cathedral of Palma de Mallorca has made the switch to renewable energy. The Global Catholic Climate Movement also launched a petition long before the Paris talks calling for world leaders to work against the harmful effects of climate change. The petition boldly states:

“Climate change affects everyone, but especially the poor and most vulnerable people among us. Inspired by Pope Francis and the Laudato Si encyclical, we call on you to drastically cut carbon emissions to keep the global temperature rise below the dangerous 1.5 degrees C threshold, and to aid the world’s poorest in coping with climate change impacts.”

The petition was endorsed directly by Pope Francis, and garnered nearly one million signatures upon release.

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