CCL July call: Leveraging Pope’s climate encyclical

CCL July call: Leveraging the Pope’s climate encyclical

By Rahul Srivastava

Last Saturday, as CCL volunteers around the world gathered for their monthly meetings, we had the privilege of hosting Patrick Carolan, Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network, as our guest speaker. The Franciscan Action Network is a coalition of Franciscan orders formed eight years ago by 160 Franciscan leaders around the United States who wanted to unite their work in social justice under one umbrella.

Mr. Carolan took pride in saying that the work of Franciscans had been going on for 800 years, a tradition started by Francis of Assisi, and on the principle of being in relationship with all of creation. A natural evolution of the work of Francis of Assisi, the Franciscan Action Network today focuses on a variety of issues of social justice, from climate change to human trafficking and gun safety.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Our conversation revolved around the relationship between faith and climate change. Mr. Carolan focused on the encyclical of Pope Francis and his upcoming visit to the United States, the work of the Franciscan Action Network, having conversations about climate change with faith leaders, and to use that as a tool to reach Republicans.

The Pope’s encyclical, Laudato Si, he said, was a departure from traditional encyclicals. Normally, encyclicals are addressed to bishops, put on bookshelves, and picked up by universities and theological schools every once in a while for debate and interpretation. Laudato Si, however, had a public build-up, and efforts were made for it to have the maximum possible impact.

Download or listen to the July call on CCL’s podcast channel.

This new-look, activist Vatican was on full display a few days after the release of the encyclical, when Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, spoke at a press conference in the Vatican about the encyclical. Ms. Klein, who identifies herself as a ‘secular, Jewish feminist,’ initially expected the invitation to speak to be rescinded for her foreign identity. But her identity was embraced at the press conference, when the Director of the Holy See, Father Federico Lombardi, spoke the same three words in her introduction. They were the only three words spoken in English, “as if to emphasize their foreignness,” according to Ms. Klein.

According to Mr. Carolan and Ms. Klein, who actually met for dinner the night before the call, such acts by the Vatican reflect a radical departure from past doctrine. The encyclical went beyond its traditional appeal to Catholic bishops. It spoke in a simple language of inclusiveness and interconnectedness, extending the umbrella of people who could absorb its message. Befittingly, Jewish and Muslim leaders came out supporting the message of the encyclical.

This belief in using faith to spread awareness of climate change is reflected in the work of the Franciscan Action Network. Some of their initiatives include the Global Catholic Climate Movement, which organized a climate hunger fast during Lent, attracting 10,000 Catholics from 60 countries to participate. They also worked with Green Faith and organized a march to the Vatican to thank the Pope for his efforts to battle climate change. The crowd of 5,000 was treated to a warm greeting from the Pope, who stepped out on his balcony to return their thanks.

Mr. Carolan offered advice on how to utilize our relationships with local faith leaders to invite them to act on climate and discuss the encyclical, regardless of faith or denomination. He credited CCL for being a grassroots organization, arguing that transformative action against climate change won’t come with a top-down approach. He stressed that we must make our representatives step out of their comfort zone, albeit in a respectful manner, to truly bring forth a global commitment to beat climate change. He asked us to bring in those of other faiths and denominations, maintaining that a coalition of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and non-faith groups would force our leaders to respond.

The Pope is set to visit the United States this fall, addressing a joint session of Congress on September 24. Screens will be put up on the Mall (thanks to Speaker John Boehner) so that the public can listen in as well. The subject will be a host of issues, including climate change and income inequality. On the next day, before the General Assembly of the United Nations, Pope Francis will speak almost exclusively on climate change, with a hope to rally the world behind securing a lasting climate agreement in Paris this December.

It is our job to persuade our representatives to take transformative action of climate change. As Patrick Carolan said on departing note, “It does take a movement to bring about change. And we’re all part of the movement.”

Rahul Srivastava is an intern with Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Steve Valk
Steve Valk is Communications Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby. Steve joined the CCL staff in 2009 after a 30-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter at @valklimate.