I have gone through all of Pope Francis’ messages to the public to date (excludes letters and addresses to a specific audience, such as to the Jesuit superior or Justin Welby for example), and have counted 10 of these. Of the 10, 5 of them contain specific references to the environment, and some of them quite emphatic. I have talked about the first few here. This has led many people from other faiths and perspectives to become excited about his environmental teachings, such as this article on ‘Francis the Scientist’, here.
However, some Catholics seem worried that Pope Francis’ words, gestures and actions are being misrepresented by the media to promote their own agendas. I think that this is happening in some instances is true (see this Jesuit claim the Pope will bring women to power here), and this is also the case with his environmental message. Take this op-ed for example, which says:
“Maybe this pope will say that protecting the environment, dealing with climate change and taking care of the poor, and the hungry, and making sure that justice happens are things that are equally important as not aborting babies or using birth control.”
And that’s precisely the point, that these things are not equally important. Pope Francis, whenever he mentions the environment (more on that later) also mentions human dignity and proclaims Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, the environment does feature highly in the new Pope’s messages. Such is the case, he is caricatured in the press as being a protector of creation (see cartoon).
Also, its important to remember that Pope Francis is really continuing a tradition that began with Pope John Paul II, was strengthened by Pope Benedict XVI and now is being extended and developed by Pope Francis, as explained in this article on Vatican News.
But lets look at what Francis actually said so far on the environment.
Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!
2. Inauguration Mass (creation mentioned 6 times, environment twice):
The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live….
Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.
3. Audience with religious leaders of other faiths:
The Church is likewise conscious of the responsibility which all of us have for our world, for the whole of creation, which we must love and protect. There is much that we can do to benefit the poor, the needy and those who suffer, and to favour justice, promote reconciliation and build peace….
we also sense our closeness to all those men and women who, although not identifying themselves as followers of any religious tradition, are nonetheless searching for truth, goodness and beauty, the truth, goodness and beauty of God. They are our valued allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in safeguarding and caring for creation.
Fighting poverty, both material and spiritual, building peace and constructing bridges: these, as it were, are the reference points for a journey that I want to invite each of the countries here represented to take up. But it is a difficult journey, if we do not learn to grow in love for this world of ours. Here too, it helps me to think of the name of Francis, who teaches us profound respect for the whole of creation and the protection of our environment, which all too often, instead of using for the good, we exploit greedily, to one another’s detriment.
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. Jesus on the Cross feels the whole weight of the evil, and with the force of God’s love he conquers it, he defeats it with his resurrection.
Finally, it seems to me that the structure that I often find repeated when the Pope mentions the environment, includes the 4 levels of relationship: God, oneself, others and creation. I am thinking that reconciliation may emerge as a prominent theme in his pontificate. Looking at Card. Bergoglio’s homilies, for example these two here and here in Buenos Aires, the theme of reconciliation is very apparent.