In 2013, the Pope took the name of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, and since that time has injected himself as an advocate for not just animals, but also for the health of the planet. It was recently reported that, during an address at St. Peters, the Pope attempted to provide solace for young boy who had just lost his dog. He told the boy all dogs do go to heaven (as well as all animals), “One day we will see our animals again in eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all God’s creatures.”
The recently released Encyclical (a letter or brief concerning Catholic doctrine sent by the Pope addressed to bishops, patriarchs, primates, and archbishops) shows a Pope Francis that is broad minded, scientific, and progressive on animal rights. He realizes that the way we treat animals, as well as the environment is a direct reflection on how we treat each other, “Our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings”. He says, all creatures “have intrinsic value—independent of their usefulness. Each organism, as a creature of God, is good and admirable in itself … we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes…Jesus says of the birds of the air ‘not one of them is forgotten before God. How then can we possibly mistreat them or cause them harm?”
The ‘dominion’ passage has always been problematic, yet Pope Francis tackles it here, “We must forcibly reject that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over earth justifies absolute dominion over all creatures.” Francis infers that the ‘dominion’ interpretation has led to culture and economy that treats sentient creatures like commodities, yet he is calling on all people to finally make a compassionate change (vegan?). “When social pressure affects their earnings, businesses clearly have to find ways to produce differently. This shows us the great need for a sense of social responsibility on the part of consumers.”
Francis writes, “We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. A change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power.”
While Francis is calling for compassionate change in our treatment of animals, he is also pushing real change in how deal with the environment and climate change, what he terms an “ecological conversion” for the faithful. “It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment.”
He writes in the encyclical that global warming is a major theme of his papacy, along with “fighting inequality and global poverty”. He writes, “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” The Pope is looking west when he admonishes, “overconsumption, consumerism, dependence on fossil fuels and the errant indifference of the powerful and wealthy”. Unless there is a radical change in our approach, he warns of an Earth choking on methane and carbon dioxide, acidification of oceans, all which will cripple the global food supply. “The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming, ” and that these factors are effecting access to safe drinkable water which, “s a basic and universal human right.”
Inside the 192-page encyclical, Francis argues for a new partnership between science and religion to “combat human-driven climate change”. Francis urges taking public transit, carpooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, recycling — and boycotting certain products.
He believes we, all citizens of the international community have been too passive: “recent World Summits on the environment have not lived up to expectations because, due to lack of political will, they were unable to reach truly meaningful and effective global agreements on the environment.” He writes, “the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.”
Pope Francis also notes that we, as individuals also play a vital role each day, “An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness.” He adds that as citizens of the world, we should also consider taking public transit, car-pooling, planting trees, turning off the lights and recycling.
Finally, Francis warns of harming animals through our passive acceptance of industries and projects that create industrial waste and pollution, “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever…What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?”
Read the Encyclical Here