At 10-year mark, Pope Francis seen as a global leader on the environment

By Brian Roewe, 12 March 2023
An Indigenous woman hands Pope Francis a plant during the closing Mass of the Synod. Image: Vatican Media/Vatican News.


The first pope to select as his namesake the patron saint of ecology, Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis has emphasized concern for creation as a priority of the Catholic Church, and made ecology a central theme of his papacy.

Francis’ decade as pope has been “both fundamental and disruptive,” said Salesian Sr. Alessandra Smerilli, secretary of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, primarily in his call for universal solidarity — across generations and with people and communities most vulnerable to a changing climate and ecological destruction — and in framing social and environmental crises as not separate but interconnected.

That solidarity was on display, she told EarthBeat, in the reception to “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” Francis’ 2015 letter to the world, which was exhorted within the church as well as by governments, scientific bodies, nongovernmental organizations and others.

“It was as if everyone was waiting for something to shake their consciences. The pope was able to somehow channel attention, at least ideally, toward a common goal,” she said.

With Laudato Si’, Francis compiled the compendium of church teaching on ecology and explicitly linked it with the socioeconomic turmoil facing a world of climate change and rapid deterioration of ecosystems. His message has transcended the Catholic Church, melded the realms of faith and science, centered the most vulnerable, reimagined humanity’s relationship with the rest of nature, and positioned him as a world leader on the many environmental challenges facing the globe.

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Brian Roewe is NCR environment correspondent. Much of his reporting appears at EarthBeat, NCR‘s new journalism initiative on faith and climate change. He has covered environmental issues for NCR since 2011. His reporting has earned multiple honors, most recently at the 2020 Religion News Association awards. Brian began with NCR in November 2011, and is a graduate of Saint Louis University and Rockhurst University.

With thanks to EarthBeat, a project of the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), where this article originally appeared.


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