In Gratitude for the Pope’s Encyclical

I believe it is remarkable now that the representatives of both the Orthodox and the Catholic churches have taken a stand for the environment. I have written this short note of gratitude for what I believe is a historic moment.

Why this picture? Because on the issue of Ecology and the urgency of our environmental position, Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew see eye to eye.

Pope Francis will be releasing his encyclical on climate change on Thursday and it is already meeting the same reaction from many in the US and around the world. Rick Santorum, a Republican running for President, told Fox News that the Pope should “leave the science to the scientists.” (The Pope, it turns out, has a degree in Chemistry.) Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League, asked all American Catholics to disregard the Pope’s encyclical and to consider the Pope as a ’very nice guy’ and ‘to offer him respect,’ but not to allow such things to guide their thoughts or aid in making decisions within the church. Well, as my twelve year old daughter sometimes tells me, ‘haters gonna hate, potatoes gonna potate.’ The rest of us, however, welcome the Pope’s Encyclical like the charge of the Rohirrim. So, on behalf of the millions around the world already suffering the effects of climate change (like the residents of Sao Paulo running out of water and the millions more watching their lakes, rivers, food, and wildlife disappear or are trying to survive extreme heat waves), I want to say thank you to the Pope for two important reasons.

First, thank you for bringing the Christians to the table, at last. A recent study by the University of Cincinnati, revealed that the Christian climate denier’s platform is informed much more by political influences than by faith. In other words, against the overwhelming environmental scientific evidence spanning four decades and in the face of the millions around the world who are currently suffering from climate change, many Christians are offering little more than the passionate intensity of a bi-partisan political objection. The Encyclical, which is among the first to address all faiths, races, and political persuasions, allows those of us Christians who are trying to raise awareness in the churches about the environment the support and validation we needed badly. I have long felt that if Christians finally stepped up to the climate change issue, and did so with humility and a servant’s heart, it would be a game-changer, not just because there are several billion of us, but also because we have a lot of talent, money, influence, and valuable insights.

The second reason I am thankful is that the Encyclical says this: “The violence that exists in the human heart… is also manifest in the symptoms of illness that we see in the Earth, the water, the air and in living things.” We will not survive this crisis based on the ingenuity of the human mind alone. The famous Einstein quote, “You can’t solve a problem with the mind that created it,” allies here. We can’t just think our way out of this because the real problem starts in the human heart. If our hearts are troubled and we are dark or harbour pain and violence, all our relationships, including and especially with nature, will be so as well. The Pope’s call to address, not only the questions of adaptation and sustainability, but the brokenness inside ourselves and how it affects our relationship to each other and the world is a mature, sensible, and pastoral approach. “Acquire the spirit of peace,” said the Russian Orthodox saint, Seraphim of Sarov, “and thousands around you will be saved.” The Pope’s encyclical will not be welcomed by everyone, and will be pilloried by some, but it testifies to the seriousness of what we face as a planet and signifies that the Christians may now finally be arriving to help.

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