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Pope Francis and an Interfaith Response to Climate Change

[picture: The Pope builds an interfaith coalition against modern day slavery. Will an interreligious coalition against climate change be next? Via Fox News]

Today Pope Francis releases his widely anticipated public letter (or encyclical) on climate change, addressed not only to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics but to “every person living on this planet.”

A few excerpts that offer a glimpse into the full 184-page encyclical:

A solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system (section 23)

We all know that it is not possible to sustain the present level of consumption in developed countries and wealthier sectors of society, where the habit of wasting and discarding has reached unprecedented levels. The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and we still have not resolved the problem of poverty (section 27).

Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor (section 49).

Buddhist teacher Thanissara has published a response, celebrating the Pope’s supposed “radicalism” as important spiritual leadership on behalf of future beings:

In delivering this message with a clarity rooted in scientific truth, the Pope demonstrates the kind of leadership needed in these frightening times. Some may call the Pope “radical” but the fact is ensuring future generations suffer dire consequences due to our negligence constitutes radical ignorance. In truth, the Pope’s radicalism is wholly worthy of the Christ, and all great religious founders, who changed the course of humanity through the might of their spiritual power.

popeclimatemarch_revision-V4-01 In response to the Pope’s statement on climate change, the OurVoices Campaign is bringing 100 emerging interfaith leaders from around the world to Rome for a march and 3-day convergence from June 27-July 1. I’ll be attending on behalf of Buddhist Peace Fellowship, sharing some of the environmental actions we’ve participated in against fracking and destruction of an urban farm, and getting more training on media and campaign planning. I’ll be bringing our hand painted banner about climate change (pictured below from our recent trip to the White House) to the One Earth, One Human Family climate march.

[Happen to be in Rome on Sunday, June 28th? Join me at the Climate March! Hit me up at dawn@bpf.org to coordinate].

Climate Justice Banner

Just before my trip, an interreligious conversation initiated by Pope Francis called “Dialogue and Fraternity” will be taking place between Buddhist and Catholic leaders from the United States. Long time BPFers Mushim Patricia Ikeda and Hozan Alan Senauke will be heading to Rome from June 22-27 to participate in the event, which will include an audience with the Pope himself.

In the invitation to the event, Vatican leaders shared one take on the alignment between Catholic and Buddhist leaders in our engagement with the world:

This year, Cardinal Tauran, President of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), wrote in his annual Vesakh Message to Buddhists that such fraternal dialogue can lead to interreligious cooperation in order “to respect and defend our shared humanity….to be outspoken in denouncing all those social ills which damage fraternity, to be healers who enable others to grow in selfless generosity, and to be reconcilers who break down the walls of division and foster genuine brotherhood between individuals and groups in society.” Dialogue and Fraternity, therefore, seeks to address social ills, heal those who suffer from these ills, and reconcile divisions in society

What do you think, BPFers? As I head to Rome, I’d love to hear more of your thoughts in the comments.

Do you think the Pope’s message is an important turning point in the movements to prevent climate catastrophe? What specifically do faith leaders have to offer in this fight?

Is it strategically important for Buddhists to link up with Catholics and others for interfaith organizing?

How do we navigate collaboration with the Vatican, an institution with a troubling history from the Crusades to sex abuse scandals? And with a Pope that has good politics around climate change and poverty, but one who plans to confer sainthood to Junipero Serra, reviled by California’s Native American communities for his genocidal and colonizing mission system and who responds to Rome’s Gay Pride parade with a statement that straight couples make the best parents?

Should we be articulating a distinctly Buddhist faith-based response to climate change? Who should be articulating that? With our decentralized tradition, would there be consensus between Buddhists in Thailand and Japan, Sri Lanka and Burma, the UK and the US?

What do you think about the encyclical itself? What’s inspiring to you, what irks you, and what do you wish he’d said instead?

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Comments (5)

  • Dukkha Earl

    I’d be a lot more impressed if the pontiff were to declare that women should have stewardship over their own bodies and that birth control would be added to the list of sacraments!

  • Shaun Bartone

    I concur on the Church’s stance on gender issues. Initially, Francis said of LGBT “It’s none of my business.” but then he backtracked under pressure. Women still are not ordained, but then, they aren’t ordained in several Buddhist lineages either. Patriarchy is Buddhism is not much better than the Roman Catholic Church. But I TOTALLY support his powerful critique of Capitalism and the inequality between South and North that allows the North to exploit the resources of developing nations, thereby increasing both inequality and climate change. Brilliant analysis. And since it’s a papal encyclical, he can’t change his mind on this one. It’s written in stone. But the Vatican could also give up some of their billions in wealth to combat climate change. Most of all, I’m so glad he framed this as an issue of inequality, exploitation and climate justice.

  • Shaun Bartone

    I meant to say that I concur on the criticism of the Church’s stance on gender issues. It’s too bad this forum doesn’t allow you to edit your own comments.

  • Dick Thompson

    Without a livable Earth, all political arguments are dust. Climate change will and in fact is already destroying the very foundation of social justice. And as for condemning others or other institutions for their positions and histories, I like the pope’s remark: “Who am I to judge?”

  • Shaun Bartone

    There are other critical issues with regard to the Church’s integrity around capitalism and colonialism. The Roman Catholic Church itself has a thousand year history of colonization, economic exploitation and genocide. Major events are the witch burnings in Europe, which killed hundreds of thousands, some say millions of women, and men. The various Inquisitions, which killed Jews, Muslims and other “heretic” peoples; the colonization of all of Latin America; the colonization of many peoples in South Asia and the Pacific, and Africa; the colonization and extermination of indigenous peoples of North America. And the near total repression of women everywhere, of every class. All of these instances of colonization and genocide paved the way for later economic exploitation and the expansion of capitalism in the colonized areas. So while i totally respect and admire Pope Francis and Cardinal Turkson for publishing this encyclical, the Church itself has blood on it’s hands that it has never made officially admitted or made reparations for.

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