Differences in opinion on climate change are stark and prompt strong, passionate reactions from those supporting different sides of the issue. Within the Church, this debate distracts us from our work of saving souls — to say nothing of caring for the least among us and stewarding the great gift of creation.
Two weeks ago, an editorial in Rhode Island Catholic, “Socialism and the New Green Dictatorship,” joined a chorus criticizing the left’s embrace of environmental protection and, in particular, Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist. Last week, a counter chorus filled an entire page with letters to the editor.
In Rome, a Synod taking place on pastoral, social, and environmental issues within the Amazon Basin is being criticized for including voices that question core Catholic teachings. This has caused similar, polarized reactions.
Long before Pope Francis, Greta Thunberg and even Al Gore, the Church has been calling attention to humanity’s propensity for making a mess of things. A mess that often harms vulnerable humans, like the unborn, the elderly and the poor.
Saint John Paul II surprised and delighted many with his continued calls for eco-protection. His successor Benedict XVI, known affectionately as “the Green pope,” elevated John Paul’s eco-concerns. Both pontiffs drew their insights from the long tradition of Catholic social teaching and, indeed, from revelation.
Creation’s significance is heralded at the very beginning of holy scripture — from God creating with purpose and love, ultimately describing all of his creation as “very good.”
This theme runs throughout the Old Testament, culminating in the incarnation of Christ himself — divinity taking human form, a form made of elements of creation such as water, proteins and minerals.
Christ’s resurrection, the Assumption of Mary and the very sacramental nature of the Church — with its use of water, bread, wine, and the like — all point to creation’s wondrous, ongoing role within God’s providence.
Sadly, these beautiful and astounding understandings of our natural environment have been either misunderstood or weaponized. They’ve been armed with the language of politics.
Thanks be to God, His Excellency, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin has called for peace. Last spring, our shepherd asked for a series of events to help the diocese, its parishes, their members and all Rhode Islanders learn about Catholic teachings on the environment — especially in view of Pope Francis’s 2015 eco-encyclical “Laudato Si.’”
Moreover, these events will connect Church teachings with actual environmental realities and opportunities, internationally and here in the Ocean State.
The “Care for Creation Series” begins on Saturday, Oct. 19 at Providence College. With its theme of “Addressing the Throw-away Culture,” this event will set the stage for subsequent ones. On Tuesday evening, Oct. 22 — the Feast of St. John Paul II — the second in the series, held in the cathedral hall, will examine ethical consumption. A third event on Thursday evening, Oct. 24, hosted by the Community Preparatory School in Providence — the former Cathedral parish school — will look at the impacts of a warming world on urban communities, as well as local initiatives to help.
There will be ancillary events that week, such as at St. Gregory’s in Warwick, and there will be more to come from the diocese.
The three diocesan-initiated events will include one or more talks on theology, followed by one or more speakers from the scientific and government arenas, and lots of time for networking.
In other words, the Care for Creation Series will use both faith and reason to unpack the ecological issues of our day. Its goal is also to build unity by bringing together speakers and inviting participants that may not normally rub elbows.
Details are in this edition of Rhode Island Catholic. You can also learn more at the Office of Faith Formation’s website, discovercaltholicfaith.org.
Whether you attend any of these events or none of them, you should commit to a common goal: building unity within the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic church. It would also help to reflect on the beauty of humanity’s life-support systems — the eco-systems of Earth — in light of science, scripture and the life of the Church.
Because our world, its natural environment, and the Church are our common homes — homes we should relish and sustain for everyone today and for future generations.
With this in mind, let us move forward together, and may St. Michael the Archangel defend us against the deceptions and temptations of our ancient enemy.
And may we all, united under the banner of the risen Christ, demonstrate his salvific love to a world that so desperately needs it.
William Patenaude, M.A., KCHS, serves on the diocesan pastoral council, is an engineer with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and is a parishioner of St. Joseph Parish, West Warwick. He writes at CatholicEcology.net. His novel, “A Printer’s Choice,” is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.