Point of View column in the Florida Times-Union
by Father Timothy Lozier
Laudato Si’ is the title of Pope Francis’s very first encyclical. The title comes from the stirring song of praise for the God of all Creation written eight centuries ago by the pope’s namesake, Saint Francis. But the subtitle of his urgent message to all humanity is just as important: On Care for Our Common Home.
We should care for our beautiful world not only because God has charged us to do so, but also because if we allow our technological prowess to wreak havoc on the environment we are ruining the home we all share.
On Thursday, Sept. 24, Pope Francis will become the first Catholic pope to address the U.S. Congress. There, he is expected to emphasize that, as Pope John Paul II said in his 1990 World Day of Peace Message, “the ecological crisis is a moral issue.” As Catholics and citizens of Florida, we urge all politicians from our state to honestly listen to the pope’s message on the ecology.
As Catholics and Florida citizens, we urge politicians from our state to list to the pope’s message on the ecology.
The Catholic Church recognizes ecology as a moral issue for several reasons.
Humans are called to “cultivate and care for” God’s good gift of creation on behalf of the loving Creator (Genesis 2:15). Also, the effects of environmental degradation – pollution, food and water stresses, rising sea levels – compromise other core commitments of Catholic social teaching.
These include the protection and defense of human life and dignity, and the preferential option for the poor, who are disproportionately impacted by ecological harm despite often being least responsible for it.
Beginning in 1969 the U.S. Catholic Bishops have supported this preferential option for the poor through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD).
Through an annual collection, CCHD provides funds to support local initiatives that help the disadvantaged to rise up and take charge of their own lives to make lasting changes.
It works to alleviate poverty by addressing unjust systems and structures. Since 2013, the campaign has invested nearly $2.5 million in community organizations to support environmental justice.
Although these teachings on ecology are traditional parts of Catholic doctrine, they have received renewed attention since Laudato Si’.
Pope Francis pays special attention to “integral ecology,” the reality that all creation – both human and non-human – is interconnected. Additionally, he reiterates the call of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI to address climate change.
Finally, Pope Francis highlights the need for public policies shaped by people of faith and good will.
In particular, he calls on politicians to be “courageous” in the face of ecological problems and insists that “healthy politics is sorely needed, capable of reforming and coordinating institutions, promoting best practices and overcoming undue pressure and bureaucratic inertia.”
In response to Pope Francis’ teaching on ecology, many Americans – including many Catholics – have resisted the notion that faith commitments should shape public discourse and policy. But the Catholic Church – like many other faith traditions – resists the privatization of religion. Believers should not be expected to “turn off” their faith when they enter the public square.
Rather, the Catholic Church insists that the fullness of faith should animate and inspire all aspects of believers’ lives: personal, familial, economic and public.
In order for this to happen – and indeed for pastors to fulfill their vocation – clergy must model the exercise of religious liberty and bring faith to bear on pressing issues. Pope Francis will certainly do this in his address to Congress and he should be applauded for it.
When he does, we urge Florida lawmakers to sincerely consider his message.
Father Timothy Lozier is the Diocesan Director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Pastor of Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, Jacksonville.