Pope Francis' highly anticipated climate encyclical is considered to be the Catholic Church's most profound statement on the environment; and while it is no doubt monumental, the Catholic Church has actually been working on climate education for over two decades. From Pope John Paul's, 1990 World Day of Peace Message, to Blessed Tomorrow's partner, Catholic Climate Covenant, the Vatican has made major headway in changing how their followers think about creation care.
The Catholic Climate Covenant, founded by Dan Misleh in 2006, has become a "Catalyst, clearinghouse and convener on all things climate and Catholic.” According to National Catholic Reporter's article, Reverence for Life Underlies Catholic Case for Environment, the organization's unique approach is attempting to make climate change "a Catholic issue, seen not as something extra, but as integral to what it means to be Catholic,”
Climate change alters every aspect of our lives from the health of our children to the financial stability of under developed regions, requiring us to alter our understanding of humankind's role in the environment. Undoubtedly, humans are unique and special, but this does not isolate us entirely from the rest of our ecosystem.
The Catholic University of America's professor of religion, Dr. William Dinges, suggests transitioning from a "dominant theological paradigm" that, “judges creation in terms of human values,” to one that understands the human species as being an intrinsic component in the web of creation. In doing so, we will better understand the effect we have on the ecosystem and ultimately, how the ecosystem impacts us.
For decades, environmental concerns existed on the outskirts of religious life, an addendum to the more familiar business of salvation.
With the growing awareness of the enormous adverse effect that human behavior is having on the health of the planet, however, environmental concerns are moving from the periphery to the center. Climate change has raised environmental activism from the category of "nice" things to do to that of "must do" for the sake of life itself.
Maturing along with the issue is the Christian understanding of creation and humans' place in the universe. In the new thinking, a revised and refined anthropology replaces a utilitarian view of earth's resources with one of complex connections and interdependence among species and with the earth itself.
Statements on the matter from denominations, the results of cooperative efforts among faiths and between religious groups and governmental and international agencies, are beginning to pour down like glacier melt.
In the Catholic world most recently, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, told the London-based Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, "Climate change has become a major social and moral problem, and mentalities can only be changed on moral and religious ground."
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