Joe Gunn


August 31,2015

How Pope Francis' memorable encyclical, released in mid-June, will be accepted among the Canadian faithful depends on how the Church responds to calls for change in our thoughts, actions and prayer.

Evoking the example of Francis of Assisi, the pope stresses an "integral ecology" as that which "takes us to the heart of what it is to be human" (11). He defines our modern malaise as human beings having lost our "true place in this world" (115).

He decries the way humans have set ourselves up as gods, acting as if we can use and abuse creation as we wish. To misunderstand the Genesis 1.28 passage as granting humans "absolute dominion" over creation prevents humankind from perceiving nature as it was meant to be - a "caress of God" the Creator (84).

Francis continually insists on the interconnectedness of the created order - plants, animals and ourselves. He also calls us to "hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor" (49). "When we fail to acknowledge . . . the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities, . . . it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected" (117).

This framing of the question challenges us to move beyond one-issue concerns.

The encyclical addresses concrete, contemporary problems head on: the pope calls for us to begin to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy (165); he questions carbon credit schemes such as cap and trade policies (171) and prefers a carbon tax; and he is critical of rich countries which create much pollution and huge greenhouse gas emissions (169).

This pope from the Global South bemoans "how weak international responses have been" (49) to the climate crisis. In what could be seen as a direct reference to the upcoming UN climate negotiations in Paris, he reminds us that "enforceable international agreements are urgently needed" (173).

John Dillon, a researcher at KAIROS, says, "Canada falls far short of Pope Francis' call for ecological justice." In the context of a federal election in Canada, Catholics could demand federal policies to enhance renewable energy and public transit options and provide more stringent environmental assessment of major projects.


While the encyclical does not call for divestment from fossil fuel companies, Catholic dioceses may decide to follow the lead of NGOs like Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), several religious congregations and the United Church which have made divestment part of their ecologically responsible ministries.

Francis notably refrains from using the word "stewardship" in the encyclical. This term communicates the sense that humans should have dominion over nature. Rather we should see ourselves as part of the web of created and interconnected life.

Critics like Franciscan sister and theologian Ilia Delio would have liked more in this regard, calling for the pope to advance this new consciousness within the Church as well.

This is the challenge we are faced with - how can people of faith model the laudable principles of the encyclical?

Parishes could study the encyclical and encourage pastors to preach on it. In September, the Catholic bishops may endorse an interfaith statement on climate, justice and poverty, a tool which can be used in all-candidates meetings and when a candidate for election appears at your doorstep.


Also this autumn, the CCCB will release a statement on how Francis' teaching should impact the Canadian Church.

Social justice committees should plan to promote Development and Peace's Fall Campaign on climate change, using their educational materials to echo the pope's call for global climate justice.

For the First Sunday in Lent, parishes can use the homily suggestions, draft Prayers of the Faithful and hymns with environmental themes which CPJ will make available on our website,


The pontiff concludes that our individual efforts toward environmentally-conscious behaviour have value. Yet, "The ecological conversion needed to bring about lasting change is also a community conversion" (219). This pope deeply challenges us - to change our environmental thoughts, prayers and institutional actions.

(Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice,, an ecumenical social advocacy organization.)