Thank You, Pope Francis
Jennifer Scarlott writes about Pope Francis’ efforts in taking on two of the most pressing issues of our times – climate change and animal welfare.
Dear Cub kids,
It really is true that just one person can change the world… but when your name happens to be Pope Francis, well, you do have a bit of a megaphone and a ‘bully pulpit’!
Photo: Public Domain.
Though the Pope makes mistakes (the Vatican refuses to allow women to be ordained as priests, for example), he has been an outstanding leader in some areas. His efforts in two areas in particular – climate change and the treatment of animals – are unprecedented for a leader of the Catholic Church.
In June this year, Pope Francis published a paper in which he champions ideas about climate change, animals, and the environment that are truly radical. I hope they will be embraced and acted upon not just by the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, but by all people. The Pope’s paper, also called an encyclical, is titled Laudato Si (in Latin), or ‘Praised Be’ after St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun, in which St. Francis praises God for animals and creation.
Though I am an atheist, and do not believe in a God-given ‘creation’, I am thrilled by the Pope’s call for compassion and respect for our fellow beings, and his scolding of those who are harming Earth’s climate and environment out of greed and longing for power. (I would describe myself as a ‘spiritual atheist’ – for me, ‘spirit’ comes from Earth and her abundant life. I have great respect for all beliefs as long as they are inclusive and do no harm, whether to the planet or to my fellow humans).
In the encyclical, Pope Francis writes, “We read in the Gospel that Jesus says of the birds of the air that ‘not one of them is forgotten before God’. How then can we possibly mistreat them or cause them harm?” He notes that “each organism… is good and admirable in itself,” and he condemns the view that humankind has “absolute domination over other creatures,” as a misinterpretation of God’s grant of ‘dominion’ over creation. “We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”
The Pope says that, “our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings… every act of cruelty towards any creature is contrary to human dignity.”
He has said that animals will go to heaven, and that the Virgin Mary “grieves for the sufferings” even of mistreated livestock. “Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place.”
Pope Francis addresses animal testing, noting that “the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that experimentation on animals is morally acceptable only if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives… human power has limits and it is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.”
I think my favorite statement of Francis’s is this one: the natural world, he says, “has an intrinsic (basic) value that is independent of its usefulness. Each organism is good and admirable in itself.” In his address to the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2015, the Pope reiterated that message: “Every living creature has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty, and in its interdependence with other creatures.”
The Pope’s work and statements on animals is consistent with Catholic teaching, but his insistence that teaching and action be one and the same is extremely important. And he is including animal rights issues among many others, including poverty, climate change, immigration, human trafficking, and prison reform, showing his belief that these issues are connected, and deserve a central place among the moral concerns not just of Catholics and of Christians, but of all people everywhere.
Thank you, Pope Francis.
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXV, No. 11, November 2015.