Rev. Andrea Ayvazian: Pope Francis takes on climate change

Last modified: Friday, May 08, 2015

HAYDENVILLE — Get ready to cheer.

Sometime this summer the Vatican will publish Pope Francis’ papal encyclical on the environment. This document, observers believe, will describe the current and future threats to our planet posed by climate change and show how vulnerable populations — especially the poor — will suffer from these perils. The document is also expected to call for vigorous, worldwide action to halt global warming.

An encyclical is the highest teaching issued by a pope. Pope Francis has been meeting with prominent scientists for over a year to obtain their input, guidance and advice about how he should address the issue of climate change. When the “eco-encyclical” (as it is being called) is published, it will be the first time a Catholic leader has dedicated an entire encyclical to environmental issues.

Those close to the Pope predict that he will say that climate change is not some distant danger, something to be avoided. Rather, he will say that a huge number of people globally are already experiencing severe hardship — notably a lack of food, water and farmable land — due to climate change. The Pope may reference the countless number of climate refugees who have already begun to flee from regions where water is rising or absent — areas where droughts, floods and once-a-century storms now occur with regularity.

Most observers believe, moreover, that in keeping with his emphasis on the plight of the poor, Pope Francis will describe the ways in which climate change will inflict particular pain on the world’s disadvantaged populations.

Get ready to cheer when Pope Francis calls climate change “the moral issue of our time.” According to Jeff Nesbit, who blogs on the site Faith Matters, “Climate change is rapidly becoming the moral issue of our time, and this Pope both recognizes it and wishes to help direct the church in that effort.”

Get ready to cheer when, if predictions prove accurate, the Pope explains in plain and simple language to the more than 1 billion Catholics worldwide, and countless others who will study this document, the basics of climate change and the moral imperative to stop it.

Get ready to cheer when Pope Francis reminds Christians that we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, which includes not heating the planet to such a degree that many of our sisters and brothers around the world suffer horrendous consequences. It is anticipated that the Pope will point out that the poorest people in the world, those who are most vulnerable, are the least responsible for climate change but will suffer the most as the changes already underway accelerate.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Vatican’s lead researcher on climate change, has been offering hints about what Pope Francis will call for in the eco-encyclical. Speaking recently at an international climate change conference hosted by the Vatican, Cardinal Turkson said, “Wealthy nations are obliged both to reduce their own carbon emissions and to help protect poorer countries from the disasters caused or exacerbated by the excesses of industrialization.”

After you are done cheering for the Pope’s extraordinary leadership in issuing the eco-encyclical, get ready to watch members of Congress squirm when this document is published. One-third of the U.S. Congress is Catholic, yet many of them may find themselves at odds with what the Pope is putting forward.

Pope Francis may call climate change an urgent moral issue, but some members of Congress say it is not an issue at all. The eco-encyclical will undoubtedly cause difficulty for elected officials who either deny that climate is real, minimize the impact it is having on the planet, or acknowledge the effects of global warming but are too cozy with the oil and coal industries to suggest any meaningful change in policy.

There are many reasons to love and admire Pope Francis, and we can add his eco-encyclical to that list. He is brave enough to use his tremendous influence to speak the truth and call upon Catholics and the world community to face the consequences of climate change and take action to save the planet and vulnerable human populations.

Climate change is indeed the moral issue of our time, and the Pope will be calling upon all of us to face that reality and to respond with integrity, action and prayer.

The Rev. Andrea Ayvazian, pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church, writes a monthly column on faith, culture and politics. She can be reached at


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