As the date for the publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, “Laudato si,” (Be Praised), draws near, one can hear the grinding of teeth and the chant from corporate America and conservative politicians say, “stay out of politics.” This criticism comes before even reading the encyclical. This is in spite of the fact that the church’s environmental message has been articulated for years, though with little coverage in the media. Pope Benedict XVI was called the “green Pope” because he voiced a strong call for environmental responsibility. During his papacy the Vatican installed photovoltaic cells on the roof of its main auditorium, a solar cooling unit for its main cafeteria and joined a reforestation project aimed at offsetting its CO2 emissions.
Why be so nervous, so critical? It is safe to assume that Big Business will be challenged to examine long-standing practices that harm the Earth, contributing to global warming, polluting water and air and contributing to serious health issues. Such changes come with a price and may inhibit the maximizing of profit. So, Big Business and politicians who receive millions from Big Business in exchange for supporting the agenda of Big Business, are critical when change is in the air (no pun intended). It is also assumed that individuals will be called to make lifestyle changes, and for most of us, change is challenging.
The mantra, “stay out of politics,” is heard often, not only when the Pope or religious congregations take a stand on global warming, but on an extensive list of issues, such as immigration reform, responsible gun laws or nuclear weapons. While these issues are discussed in the political arena, they are all moral issues. As citizens and people of faith we are responsible for speaking out on the long list of social concerns that impact lives around the world and the Earth on which we reside.
This is a critical “pro-life” issue, but rarely spoken of as “pro-life,” even though it affects the lives of people around the world. We find in scripture the call to be responsible stewards on Earth. When we speak up as the tops are blown off the mountains of Appalachia, or the practice of fracking pollutes our water and threatens life, we speak about moral issues.
May open minds and open hearts prevail when “Laudato si” appears.