Next year, Pope Francis will deliver a major statement on climate change to more than one billion Catholics worldwide. The papal encyclical is intended to influence the United Nations ahead of the 2015 Paris Climate Summit.

Papal encyclicals are rare and often weighty letters (both literally and figuratively) that come directly from the head of the Catholic church. Francis’ upcoming encyclical will focus on the relationship between man and nature, specifically on what actions world governments should take regarding climate change. The 50- to 60-page letter will be issued to the church’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will then share it with their parishioners.

According to the World Christian Database, there are some 1.2 billion Catholics on Earth, with the majority (40 percent) living in Latin America.

Pope Francis (Image: Creative Commons)

Pope Francis (Image: Creative Commons)

In addition to writing the encyclical, Pope Francis will speak on climate change at the UN general assembly and will also call a summit of the world’s leading religions.

“Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions,” Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the vatican’s pontifical academy of sciences, told the Catholic development agency at a meeting in London. “The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”

Francis has voiced concerns on both climate change and global income inequality – and how the former is exacerbating the latter – many times before. In May, the Pope warned that exploiting nature was unsustainable for humanity in the long run.

“Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few,” he said in a May sermon. “Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.”

He asked his fellow catholics to “safeguard Creation,” because “if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us!”

This was during a five-day environmental summit hosted by the vatican, entitled “Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature, Our Responsibility,” after which its members issued the following statement:

“Human action which is not respectful of nature becomes a boomerang for human beings that creates inequality and extends what Pope Francis has termed ‘the globalization of indifference’ and the ‘economy of exclusion’ (Evangelii Gaudium), which themselves endanger solidarity with present and future generations.”

This is a cause that has been taken up by the whole Catholic church. During this month’s COP20 negotiations in Lima, Peru, a group of Catholic bishops issued a joint request for nations to “put an end to the fossil fuel era.”

The Guardian points out that Francis’ message is apt to be opposed by Vatican conservatives and conservative Catholics alike. The evangelical Christian right has also been vocal in its climate denial.

“The pope should back off,” said Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the conservative Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, an evangelical coalition. “The Catholic church is correct on the ethical principles but has been misled on the science. It follows that the policies the Vatican is promoting are incorrect. Our position reflects the views of millions of evangelical Christians in the U.S.”

Yet the Pope has been undeterred by these dissenting voices. “The monopolizing of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth,” he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian peasants this past October. “Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness.”

Next December, the UN will gather in Paris to discuss reducing carbon emissions and adapting to climate change. If the Pope can raise awareness of these issues amongst his billion-strong congregation, it will be very difficult for world leaders to ignore.

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