Talk about ecology is heating up.
The Vatican hosted a gathering April 28 on climate change and sustainable development.
The United Nations is looking for Pope Francis’s “spiritual and moral leadership,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Pope Francis is preparing an encyclical on the matter, which is expected to be released this summer.
He will address the United Nations in New York on Sept. 25, as world leaders gather to hammer out a sustainable development agreement that will be up for a vote at a December climate conference in Paris.
The encyclical “will become the Catholic Church’s white paper for Paris,” said Father Robert “Bud” Grant, a Des Moines diocesan priest, environmental theologian and professor at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.
“The value of it is on the grand scale. This is the Catholic Church planting a flag. This is the Catholic Church setting a precedent for other religions. This is the Catholic Church which, lets’ face it, is still a powerful geopolitical force,” he said.
The encyclical is expected to present ecology as the ultimate pro-life, pro-poor, pro-family issue.
“I tell my students, and I truly believe this, there are no more important issues than environmental issues,” said Father Grant. “Every other problem, social, economic, political conflict that we’re dealing with pales in comparison with the threats that we are facing environmentally.”
Pope Francis needs to address the issue for two reasons, he said.
The environment is the ultimate life issue because it affects current and future generations, he said.
It’s the ultimate social justice issue because the poor tend to bear the brunt of the effects of climate change, he said.
“There are three victims of ecological crisis: the marginalized, the future and Earth itself,” said Father Grant.
In the history of Catholic social teaching, starting with “Rerum Novarum,” the Church has focused on the rights of the poor with a focus on the idea that agriculture is designed for the common good, not only the profit of the person who owns the land, he said.
Father Grant, who held the miter of St. John Paul II during his Oct. 4, 1979 visit to Iowa, said environmental theology was born that day.
“His homily on that day, is still very much emphasizing as it obviously would, agriculture and the role of agriculture, the dignity of farming and the use of farming,” he said. “But it goes further, or at least it probes into this idea that the Earth is God’s, not ours, and we are not its owners but its stewards.”
“Once you have stepped across that line, you’ve struck a beautiful balance between what I call an anthropocentric ethic. The Earth is a resource to be distributed justly, and an ecocentric ethic. The earth is God’s creation and that alone demands responsibility for it.
“It’s Scriptural and deeply embedded in our tradition,” said Father Grant.
Pope Benedict XVI, dubbed the “green pope,” followed up by encouraging care for the environment.
Father Grant hopes Pope Francis addresses in his encyclical the intrinsic value in the Earth as God’s creation.
“Thomas Aquinas reminds us that the earth is one of the ways we know of the existence of God,” said Father Grant. “The earth is God’s garden. By wandering in it, we learn some things about the identity of God that are very real. There are traces of the Creator in creation. I just really, really love that. I hope that’s what he says.”
Speculating on what the encyclical could say, Father Grant added that Pope Francis could invite people to share in the suffering.
“Suffering is real. It’s already happening and it’s extensive,” he said. “We have to become aware of it and we have to choose to embrace more of the suffering, and share the cross. I call this idea ‘redistributive suffering.’ That’s what I hope he ultimately says.”
“Only religions, Christianity and uniquely Catholicism, can challenge the best that is in us to choose to suffer for the sake of others, even if we don’t really believe they deserve it,” said Father Grant. “It’s embedded in the Eucharist. It’s the crucifixion. It’s the essence of our faith.”
With international talks of mitigating climate change, and an upcoming encyclical from Pope Francis, individuals may ask, “What can I do?” to make a difference.
“What any of us do as individuals, in terms of the overall impact, it will be beyond negligible,” said Father Robert “Bud” Grant, a theologian, environmentalist and professor at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.
“The reason to do it is because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “That’s core to my theology.”
“But communal action, especially as orchestrated by proper governmental channels can—and must—engage in order to make substantive choices that will help us mitigate and adapt to the new world in which we live and which we have, sadly, created,” he said. “That is what is at stake at the Paris summit next winter.