In his first mass as Pope, Francis has offered a vision for the Church and the world’s Catholics that deserves recognition. Being Pope means holding positions that are infuriating to folks like myself, and Francis will be no different. But this does not mean that we should not look to leaders for leadership, even if they are not our leaders.
So, from his first mass, offered this morning, at the Vatican:
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. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about.
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. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world!
Quite frankly, this is lovely and amazing. Unequivocal calls for environmental protection coming from the seat Authority of the most populous church in the world. Such words do not mean anything will happen, that there will suddenly occur a galvanizing of the Catholic body towards environmental protection and climate mitigation. The Catholic Church has long acknowledged the science of climate change; such does not mean the faithful are hearing about the urgency in the pews on Sundays. And, as always, the Church has internal issues (and scandals) that are likely to require priority over climate change. Still, it’s a pleasure to hear the Pope’s words of care for the earth.
Even more than just creation care from the Pope, though, these words offer a view of world history that should add complexity to an oversimplified American religious worldview that too often dominates the US landscape. Francis’ mass acknowledges that caring for the earth and its creatures involves a “prior dimension”, something that does not involve “Christians alone,” but humans in total. I love this. There is more to the human experience than can be summed up in the contemporary faithful, in Christianity, in Catholicism. There are human dimensions broader and older than those we currently inhabit, and they encompass not just our defining communities but all communities. I can find a place in that sentiment, not a home but elbow room enough to acknowledge at least that I share these values, that I share in the need to protect our planet and its poorest citizens.
Environmental care from the Pope on day one. I could easily expect less.