Papa Francisco I's Commitment to Helping the Poor Should Include Tackling Climate Change

“Cuando no hay amor, se adormece la conciencia”  Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires

It's impossible to ignore the biggest news around the world:  There’s a new Pope, and it’s historical.  The Vatican’s Conclave of Cardinals has chosen the first Jesuit Catholic Pope born in the Americas—and he’s Latino.  His background, personality and choice of name have riveted the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world. 

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I or Papa Francisco I, was born and raised in Buenos Aires, loves tango and futbol (soccer), and is by all accounts, a model of austerity, modesty and humility. He is a fan of public transportation (often spotted on the bus) and the simple life, purposely living among the people whose spiritual life he led and rejecting the luxuries that his position as Cardinal allowed.  And as we saw in his first public appearance as Pope, modesty and warmth seems to be his style. Devout Latin Americans are overjoyed and full of renewed faith. And while many will disagree with his stance on other important social issues, his commitment to serve the poor seems unwavering. 

He has chosen his Papal name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. Saint Francis (circa 1181) is famous in Catholic dogma for his devotion to care for the poor and the environment.  He was merited with the miracle of communicating with animals, especially birds, which explains why he’s typically photographed around them.  St. Francis was also merited with the progressive ideology that aimed to move the Church away from building institutional power and back to their truest and basic purpose: serve and care for people and nature as God’s creations on earth. 

As an environmental advocate, a Catholic, Latina and mother, I hope Pope Francis will be a voice against climate change, deadly pollution, and the destruction of natural resources that threaten our planet and the lives of the poor most severely. 

Pope Benedict XVI, made great strides in helping to bring awareness to climate change and the impacts it will have on the poor and vulnerable, linking climate change to food insecurity and water scarcity. The Vatican also released a report, “Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene,” showing the impact humans have had on climate change and appealing "to all nations to develop and implement, without delay, effective and fair policies to reduce the causes and impacts of climate change on communities and ecosystems, including mountain glaciers and their watersheds, aware that we all live in the same home."

Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras has also called climate change a "faith issue," and has advocated for a reduction in worldwide carbon emissions. Pope Benedict XVI called for less energy consumption, greater ecological sensitivity, improved energy efficiency and research into alternative forms of energy, aiming to transform the Vatican into the first carbon-neutral state installing $1.5 million in solar panels. Importantly, Benedict criticized the "economic and political resistance" to combating climate change and environmental degradation.

As we learn more and more about Pope Francis I, I hope that he will continue this legacy, prioritizing the importance of tackling climate change and recognizing the very real impacts that our failure to act will have on all of us, and the very serious impacts it will have on the world's poor.

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