Pope Francis made the religious case for tackling climate change on Wednesday, calling on his fellow Christians to become “Custodians of Creation” and issuing a dire warning about the potentially catastrophic effects of global climate change.
Speaking to a massive crowd in Rome, the first Argentinian pope delivered a short address in which he argued that respect for the “beauty of nature and the grandeur of the cosmos” is a Christian value, noting that failure to care for the planet risks apocalyptic consequences.
“Safeguard Creation,” he said. “Because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!”
The pope centered his environmentalist theology around the biblical creation story in the book of Genesis, where God is said to have created the world, declared it “good,” and charged humanity with its care. Francis also made reference to his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, who was a famous lover of animals, and appeared to tie the ongoing environmental crisis to economic concerns — namely, instances where a wealthy minority exploits the planet at the expense of the poor.
“Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude,” Francis said.
Francis also said that humanity’s destruction of the planet is a sinful act, likening it to self-idolatry.
“But when we exploit Creation we destroy the sign of God’s love for us, in destroying Creation we are saying to God: ‘I don’t like it! This is not good!’ ‘So what do you like?’ ‘I like myself!’ – Here, this is sin! Do you see?”
The pope’s comments come on the heels of a five-day summit on sustainability convened at the Vatican earlier this month. The summit, entitled “Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature, Our Responsibility,” drew together microbiologists, legal scholars, economists, philosophers, astronomers, and other experts to discuss ways for the Catholic church to address a range issues caused by climate change. In a joint statement published after the close of the conference, participants echoed Francis’ belief that environmental justice and economic justice are inextricably linked.
“Human action which is not respectful of nature becomes a boomerang for human beings that creates inequality and extends what Pope Francis has termed ‘the globalization of indifference’ and the ‘economy of exclusion’ (Evangelii Gaudium), which themselves endanger solidarity with present and future generations,” the statement read.
The pontiff’s catechesis and the Vatican’s summit appear to be part of a renewed effort by the Catholic church to draw attention to environmental issues. Keeping with a long history of Catholic environmentalism (including several pro-environmentalist sermons delivered by Pope Benedict XVI, Francis’ predecessor), Francis addressed climate change in his inaugural mass as pope, and is rumored to be working on a formal encyclical on the environment.