Church leaders urge developed world to tackle climate change

Villagers paddle along a branch of the Pomeroon River in the interior of Guyana. The Catholic Church supports scientists' efforts to study the causes and effects of climate change and insist governments, businesses get serious about protecting the environment.

CNS PHOTO | BOB ROLLER

Villagers paddle along a branch of the Pomeroon River in the interior of Guyana. The Catholic Church supports scientists' efforts to study the causes and effects of climate change and insist governments, businesses get serious about protecting the environment.

July 13, 2015
MICHAEL SWAN
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

The pope's encyclical on the environment is addressed to the entire world, but it has different messages for each part of it.

"He's got a different message for the developing world than he does for the developed world," said Dennis Patrick O'Hara, director of Toronto's Elliott Allen Institute for Ecology and Theology.

"He's admonishing the developed world. He's standing shoulder to shoulder with the developing world."

"Of course it's a challenge to us," said Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"It's a challenge to anybody who's reading this and looking at it in a serious way . . . . It challenges Canadian companies and the Canadian government to look again at the way we are dealing with our environment. And it's challenging us in our international relationships."

It's also a document the Canadian bishops contributed to in a profound way.

"God has written a precious book, 'whose letters are the multitude of created things present in the universe.'

Wind turbines offer a plentiful source of electricity while limiting carbon emissions.

CNS PHOTO | GEORGE FREY, REUTERS

Wind turbines offer a plentiful source of electricity while limiting carbon emissions.

"The Canadian bishops rightly pointed out that no creature is excluded from this manifestation of God: 'From panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source of wonder and awe. It is also a continuing revelation of the divine,'" wrote Pope Francis.

The pope relied upon the Canadian bishops to teach that creation itself constitutes God's sacred, self-emptying revelation. That's no incidental remark in his argument that our faith compels us to act on climate change.

However, that hardly lets Canadians off the hook. We're a wealthy nation and our culture is deeply secular and massively consumerist.

"He's really got a word for everybody, but the strongest words in the document are to wealthier nations," said Saskatoon Bishop Don Bolen, chair of the CCCB's justice and peace commission.

SLOW POKE CANADA

"Yes, we're a wealthy nation and a nation with many resources," Bolen said.

But Pope Francis is saying wealthier nations are not ready to show real leadership or take greater responsibility at international summits on the environment, he said.

In Laudato Si': On Care For Our Common Home, the pope also sets a standard for relations with Aboriginal Canadians we have not always lived up to.

"It is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed," writes Pope Francis.

"This is an encyclical that hits us, touches us at every level," said Ray Temmerman, Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace national council president.

Temmerman believes the new encyclical will have an importance for Development and Peace's 10,000-plus members not seen since Pope Paul VI's 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio.

When Paul declared 48 years ago that "development is the new name for peace," Canadians responded by joining and supporting Development and Peace, he said.

Now that the planet is on the line there is new urgency in its campaigns, Temmerman said.

"We are not called to alleviate poverty," he said. "We are called to an encounter with the poor."

Bishop Don Bolen

Bishop Don Bolen

Canadian Catholics want their Church to take up the challenge in Laudato Si', said Green Church executive director Normand Levesque. Canadians believe the pope is right to face up to the truth of the situation.

CONSIDER NATURE'S LAWS

"Reality is more important than the ideal," said Levesque. "Reality is how the world works, how ecosystems work. So he goes on to say that any development project, any economic project, must be framed within the limits of nature's laws."

But that big picture doesn't exclude ordinary Christians from playing their role.

"In every parish, we should have somebody in charge of creation care ministry," he said. "We have to recognize this as a ministry in the Church. Otherwise, these are just good ideas and theology."

In Antigonish, N.S., Bishop Brian Dunn doesn't think this is just "another document from the Church and so what?"

The pope "is giving us a new perspective on our home. This is our common home," said Dunn.

"We don't think in those terms. Giving people that kind of mindset might be a way of influencing all people, as he calls it, anybody of good will, willing to listen to those kinds of things."

"He's presenting a theology of creation that gives us an entirely different way of seeing things – as gift as opposed to something we continue to consume."