Pope Francis greets Catholic pilgrims as he arrives in the Popemobile to lead an open-air Sunday mass on September 12, 2021 in Budapest, Hungary.
He underscored how interconnected every living thing is across the planet, how we all shared a “common home.”
By Emmet Farrell
Nov. 12, 2021 5 PM PT
Father Farrell is a retired priest at the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, where he directs the Creation Care Ministry. He lives in Paradise Hills.
I have been a Catholic priest for 56 years. I have served in distinct places, including Iowa, where I grew up in a farm town of 3,000, in a primitive community in Peru’s mountains, and, for the last 27 years, across the San Diego region.
What I experienced and learned working in those places informs my service today, leading the San Diego Diocese’s efforts to protect the environment and the life it sustains. That work is based on the landmark letter Pope Francis released in 2015 to believers and non-believers alike called “Laudato Si’: On Care of Our Common Home.” A distinguished scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, called it “without exaggeration … the best document ever published on climate change.”
On Sunday, the pope plans to follow it up with the launch of a revolutionary initiative: The Laudato Si’ Action Platform, a global grassroots movement to reduce environmental damage and to create a more just world. Its goal is to encourage key sectors to implement projects to become sustainable in seven years. It envisions increasing the number of participating groups each year, which together over time will create real change.
In all of my years as a priest, I have never known of a papal document to be supported with a project of this scope to bring it to life.
In the document, called an encyclical, the pope urged us to listen “to the cry of the earth” and “to the cry of the poor” and to make radical changes to heal both. He said there was scientific consensus that climate change was caused by human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, and that bold steps needed to be taken immediately to reverse its devastating impacts.
He stressed that the people most hurt by climate change were the world’s poorest populations, who least contributed to it. And that it was the responsibility of the wealthy nations to provide a solution to the problems they were causing.
The letter was a moral and spiritual one. The Creator gave us this world as a gift, one we were told to “till and protect” (Genesis 2:15), not destroy, the pope wrote. He said people of faith were called to be responsible stewards of all of creation.
He underscored how interconnected every living thing is across the planet, how we all shared a “common home,” which we had to work together to safeguard.
That call has only gotten more crucial amid killer floods, years-long droughts, massive fires and, most recently, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report on Aug. 9 on the impacts of climate change worldwide. Some changes, such as sea level rise, are already irreversible for centuries to millennia, it said. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called the report nothing less than “a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable.”
At the San Diego Catholic Diocese, we embraced sustainable practices before the pope issued his document. Half of the diocese’s 97 parishes have installed solar energy systems, with more in the works, and several offer plug-in stations for recharging electric vehicles. In national and international forums, Bishop Robert McElroy promotes the pope’s expansive vision of how people of faith can renew the earth and heal the social divisions in our world.
The Creation Care Ministry I lead works with teams at parishes and schools to help them develop their own projects. Students at St. Martin of Tours Academy in La Mesa, for instance, planted an organic garden whose edible plants are used to provide food to needy families. Parishioners at St. Thomas More Church in Oceanside planted trees as part of our ministry’s tree planting campaign.
In July, the diocese launched its Creation Care Action Plan, which will work in concert with the Vatican’s Laudato Si’ Action Platform. The plan recommends steps to protect the environment and to promote social justice that individuals, parishes and organizations can implement. The steps individuals can take include driving less and walking more, using less water, reducing food waste, using eco-friendly disposable products, and reducing the use of heaters and air conditioners.
When I speak at parishes, I underscore that climate change is not a Democratic, Republican or Catholic issue, it’s a human one.
“We are facing an existential crisis,” I tell people. I quote Desmond Tutu, who was Anglican bishop of South Africa: “We are all part of the problem, and we are all part of the solution.”
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