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July 22, 2014

Creation and Respect for the Environment: Pope Francis’ New Encyclical in 2015

When Germany overwhelmed host Brazil (7-1) during the semi-finals of the recently concluded 2014 World Cup, some rooted for Argentina to win over the Netherlands in the other semi-finals match to forge a Germany versus Argentina World Cup finals. When Argentina won (4-2) on penalties, the dream match was set. The reason? The previous pope, Benedict the XVI, is German and the present pope, Francis, is Argentinian. It added another flavor to the already exciting and historic rivalry. What country will be blessed more? Whose prayer will God grant? Whose pope’s team will win?

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But the “rivalry” already began earlier during their pontificate. In almost all his speeches and encyclicals, Pope Benedict XVI had dealt with the care for the environment. Thus he was dubbed as the “green pope”. His reference to the care of creation was so pronounced that he saw Creation as connected to peace and conversion. Here comes Pope Francis. His recent comments on the environment at the University of Molise, “This is our sin, exploiting the Earth.” Then, “This is one of the greatest challenges of our time: to convert ourselves to a type of development that knows how to respect creation.” Drew a lot of attention and became the topic of some articles.

Not to be outdone, come 2015, Pope Francis is set to release his new encyclical on Creation and Respect for the Environment. He consulted no less than the superior of the Franciscan Order, a congregation with the necessary charisma, and spent months drafting his work.

In an interview, , Minister General, Order of Friars Minor said:

“The Pope himself brought up the issue of the environment. And he talked about his deep concern that we need, the Church needs, to find the way to respond, using the best of science. But also using the best of goodwill of all of humanity, to bring together a consensus on trying to respond to the crisis, the ecological crisis.”

In his effort to make the encyclical truly relevant, he also consulted Erwin Kräutler, bishop of Xingu, a diocese in the Amazon greatly affected by deforestation.

In her article “Pope Francis’ Radical Environmentalism” for The Atlantic, Tara Isabella Burton concluded:

“What is radical is Francis’s willingness to present environmentalism not merely as a challenge, but as one of the “greatest” challenges of our time. By underlining the importance of environmentalism to his overall theology, Francis is doing more than simply espousing a set of principles. He is also publicly—with the dizzying reach granted to a man in his position—emphasizing an understanding of nature that, in contrast to the combative dichotomy so prevalent in mainstream politico-religious discourse, is intrinsically positive in its treatment of the physical world. It’s a vision that is, radically and profoundly, pro-life.”

Indeed, Pope Francis’ known sincerity, simplicity, leadership, commitment to service, and fidelity to the Church and immense popularity, among others, should stir the cause of the care for the environment a notch higher. It is hoped that his credence and attraction to so many people, both believers and non-believers, would be translated into action. The world had come to a point when the earth can hardly sustain man’s needs anymore. Not because there is too much population and lack of resources, but because of man’s rapacious attitude. To make it worse, the blame is always pointed to the other. Unless we come to recognize and accept our own contribution to the earth’s present malady, the earth will continue to debauch. And maybe that is the reason why, as will be expected, Pope Francis spoke of environmental disrespect as a sin.

Here are some of his words that we may see in his coming encyclical:

“Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: 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.” Pope’s Audience, May 21, 2014

“…I wish to mention another threat to peace, which arises from the greedy exploitation of environmental resources. Even if ‘nature is at our disposition’, all too often we do not ‘respect it or consider it a gracious gift which we must care for and set at the service of our brothers and sisters, including future generations’. Here too what is crucial is responsibility on the part of all in pursuing, in a spirit of fraternity, policies respectful of this earth which is our common home. I recall a popular saying: ‘God always forgives, we sometimes forgive, but when nature – creation – is mistreated, she never forgives!’. We have also witnessed the devastating effects of several recent natural disasters. In particular, I would mention once more the numerous victims and the great devastation caused in the Philippines and other countries of South-East Asia as a result of typhoon Haiyan.” Statement to the Diplomatic Corps, January 14, 2014

“Let us look around: how many wounds are inflicted upon humanity by evil! Wars, violence, economic conflicts that hit the weakest, greed for money that you can’t take with you and have to leave. When we were small, our grandmother used to say: a shroud has no pocket. Love of power, corruption, divisions, crimes against human life and against creation! And – as each one of us knows and is aware – our personal sins: our failures in love and respect towards God, towards our neighbour and towards the whole of creation.” Homily during the celebration of Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord, March 24, 2013.

Before intrigue comes in, I would like to stress that Pope Francis does not intend to replace Pope benedict XVI as Green Pope. Pope Francis supports Pope Benedict XVI’s ministry and advocacy for the love of Creation and care for the environment. Both are aware that this path is the best at present given how responsible countries are treating the world. If in the 2014 World Cup Finals, Germany beat Argentina in the football field, in the field of Creation, all countries are winners. All countries, not only Germany, will hold and raise the Earth, as their World Cup!

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