Vatican conference on ‘climate resilience’ latest in long line of environmental initiatives by Pope Francis and Catholic Church – 5 essential reads

From 15-17 May 2024, American leaders including California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healy attending a global conference on environmental issues. The host? The Vatican.

The summit, “From Climate Crisis to Climate Resilience,” will focus on human adaptation, not just efforts to mitigate climate change. “We need to start building climate resilience so that people can bend the emissions curve and bounce back from the climate crisis safer, healthier, richer to a sustainable life,” the Pontifical Academy of Sciences said in a statement announcing the workshop.

It may seem surprising for the Catholic Church to hold a climate change event. But many saints, activists and religious leaders have asked their faith to inspire care for the Earth. Pope Francis has been particularly vocal about the risks of climate change, particularly its impact on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

Here are five aspects of Francis’ views – and the wider relationship that Catholicism has with the environment – ​​that scholars have written about for the Conversation.

1. God’s creation

Care for the World has a long Catholic lineage, going back hundreds of years.

Hildegard of Bingen's depiction shows her experiencing a spiritual vision while dictating to a scribe.

“One of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity is that God directly created the material world, and that it was therefore fundamentally related to God’s goodness,” explained Joanne M. Pierce, a religious studies scholar at the College of the Holy Cross.

One saint who accepted that teaching was Hildegard of Bingen, who died in the 12th century. A German expert on herbal remedies and botany, she was also a writer, and “made a kind of ‘green’ theology called viriditas.”

There is another Catholic saint who is famous for his love of nature Francis of Assisipatron saint of ecology: an Italian friar known for treating animals “with the same dignity as man”.

Read more: Catholics have a long history of caring for the environment – ​​centuries before Pope Francis

2. Faith – and reason

In fact, when Pope Francis published a volume on the environment in 2015, he took the title from one of the poems of his namesake saint: “Laudato si.”

The circular links concerns about climate change with Catholic teaching. But it is not just for Catholics; Francis also makes science-based arguments that people can appreciate with or without religious faith, noted Lawrence Torcello, a philosopher at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

“Laudato si” is a remarkable example of how reason should be incorporated into public discourse,” Torcello wrote. In a time as polarized as ours, arguments need to be framed in a way that anyone can understand, even if they disagree, “regardless of private religious or parish commitments”.

Read more: The Pope as philosopher: faith, climate change and public reason

3. An influential messenger

Similarly, University of Michigan business scholars Andrew Hoffman and Jenna White zoomed in on the Pope’s ability to speak to people across the board: Catholics and non-Catholics, Republicans and Democrats, people who care about climate change and people others are skeptical about it.

In the United States, they pointed out that debates about climate change are often more about worldview than scientific proof. “If we call people to protect the global climate because it is sacred … it will create a much more personal commitment than a government call to action on economic grounds or an activist call on environmental grounds,” the two wrote.

Read more: The Pope as messenger: making climate change a moral issue

4. Environmental front line

Francis has often drawn attention to the unequal impact of climate change on people around the globe. That was on display in 2019, when the Vatican hosted the “Amazon Synod” – a region particularly threatened by environmental destruction.

“As a theologian who studies religious responses to the environmental crisis, the Pope’s attempt to learn from the indigenous people of the Amazon is remarkable to me,” writes University of Dayton Professor Vincent Miller.

“Some people might dismiss this synod as just a meeting,” he admitted. But “the Amazon Synod represents a significant shift from the Pope’s lofty intentions of taking climate action to a global religious community that gives voice to those living on the front lines of ecological destruction.”

Read more: Pope affirms Catholic Church’s duty to indigenous Amazonians hurt by climate change

5. Warnings and surprises

In 2023, Francis released an addendum to “Laudato Si.” Like the original document, it linked environmental, social and technological challenges – for example by subverting rich countries and individual attitudes towards ignoring the impact of climate change.

In the Pope’s eyes, “all life is in relationships,” writes Lisa Sideris, an environmental ethicist at UC Santa Barbara: nature, the human and the divine. “I believe that Francis’s social critique stems from his vision of life – one full of courage for the depth of meaning and mystery to be found in an interconnected world.”

Part of the problem, as Francis presents it, is that people have forgotten how close we are – a theme that is likely to be front and center at this week’s summit.

Read more: Pope’s new letter isn’t just ‘encouragement’ on the environment – ​​for Francis, everything is surprisingly connected

This story is a summary of articles from The Conversation archives.

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