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Environmentalism is a corporal and spiritual work of mercy, Pope proclaims

September 01, 2016

Pope Francis has suggested that care for the environment should be added to the Church's traditional list of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Recalling that “the Catechism of the Catholic Church presents the confessional as the place where the truth makes us free,” the Pope called upon the faithful to repent of the ecological damage they have caused and to make a “firm purpose of amendment” to act in concrete ways that are “more respectful of creation.”

Pope Francis issued his call to repentance in “Show Mercy to our Common Home,” his message for the 2016 World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. The Pope himself instituted that observance last year. 

Explaining why he thought care for the environment should be listed as a corporal work of mercy, "a complement to the two traditional sets of seven," the Pope wrote:

We usually think of the works of mercy individually and in relation to a specific initiative: hospitals for the sick, soup kitchens for the hungry, shelters for the homeless, schools for those to be educated, the confessional and spiritual direction for those needing counsel and forgiveness. However, when we look at the works of mercy as a whole, “we see that the object of mercy is human life itself and everything it embraces.

The Pope repeated his argument, made in Laudato Si', that climate change has a disproportionate impact on the poor and needy. He wrote that wealthy nations, which have profited from the exploitation of the environment, should now begin paying an "ecological debt" that they owe to poorer nations. 

At a Vatican press conference, Cardinal Peter Turkson, the newly appointed head of the dicastery for Integral Human Development, said that the Pope's message was a natural development of the theme of his encyclical. He also suggested that the "works of mercy" recommended by the Pontiff would differ from the traditional works of corporal and spiritual mercy, in that they would require the involvement of communities and perhaps governments. The cardinal said that "individual initiative, important though it is, is not sufficient to turn the ship around." He went on: "Ecological conversion entails not only individual conversion, but community conversion too."

Also speaking at the press conference introducing the new document, Terence Ward, the author of The Guardian of Mercy, said that care for the environment should not only be added to the list of works of mercy, but recognized as "the highest work of mercy because it includes all the others." He, too, argued that this new work of mercy requires government involvment. "Citizens should absolutely insist that their governments and companries act responsiibly to honor the Paris Climate Change Agreement," he said, "and should advocate for more ambitious goals."

The message, dated and released September 1, has six parts:

  • The earth cries out …
  • … for we have sinned
  • An examination of conscience and repentance
  • Changing course
  • A new work of mercy
  • In conclusion, let us pray

“Global warming continues, due in part to human activity: 2015 was the warmest year on record, and 2016 will likely be warmer still,” the Pope stated. “This is leading to ever more severe droughts, floods, fires and extreme weather events.”

“Climate change is also contributing to the heart-rending refugee crisis,” he continued. “The world’s poor, though least responsible for climate change, are most vulnerable and already suffering its impact.”

Pope Francis linked his call for repentance to the jubilee year of mercy:

During this Jubilee Year, let us learn to implore God’s mercy for those sins against creation that we have not hitherto acknowledged and confessed. Let us likewise commit ourselves to taking concrete steps towards ecological conversion, which requires a clear recognition of our responsibility to ourselves, our neighbors, creation and the Creator.

Quoting his 2015 encyclical on the care of creation, the Pope said that concrete steps to live in a manner more respectful of creation include “avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices.”

“Economics and politics, society and culture cannot be dominated by thinking only of the short-term and immediate financial or electoral gains,” he added. “Instead, they urgently need to be redirected to the common good, which includes sustainability and care for creation.”

The Pope also proposed two works of mercy related to creation:

Let me propose a complement to the two traditional sets of seven: may the works of mercy also include care for our common home. As a spiritual work of mercy, care for our common home calls for a “grateful contemplation of God’s world” (Laudato Si', 214) which “allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us” (ibid., 85). As a corporal work of mercy, care for our common home requires “simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness” and “makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world” (ibid., 230-31).


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Show 12 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: loumiamo - Sep. 03, 2016 9:27 AM ET USA

    But where is the temperance in the Pope's remarks? E.G., when the Church speaks of its opposition to any of the gay agenda, she often reminds us that we must still treat homosexuals charitably, that we have no license to persecute them. So where is the reminder to be careful of the many errors in environmentalism? For pity's sake, they believe eating meat causes global warming,to name just 1 of their lunacies. Does the shepherd see only a completely smooth path toward this secular nirvana?

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Sep. 02, 2016 11:17 PM ET USA

    What surprises me is no mention of indulgences for recycling and riding my bike.

  • Posted by: LACY - Sep. 02, 2016 10:36 PM ET USA

    We know governments like the Popes home country, China, India and other bad actors have little respect for the environment or there people, but should we lump everyone together?

  • Posted by: phineas - Sep. 02, 2016 5:24 PM ET USA

    Discussing a scientific thesis promoted by the Vatican leads one to think the globalists are winning the day. Soros money, along with the input from atheistic globalist Progressives Naomi Oreskes, Peter Wadhams, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Jeffrey Sachs, and Naomi Klein, advisors all to the writing of Laudato Si, convey the ominous feeling that, just when we need to be delving ever deeper into the spiritual truths of our Catholic faith, we are being distracted by temporal things. Why?

  • Posted by: garedawg - Sep. 02, 2016 10:21 AM ET USA

    Perhaps the jury is still out on global warming; I'm not an atmospheric scientist so I cannot pronounce on it. However, if man-made global warming really is happening, then we could have a real mess on our hands, and making the choice between ignoring it or addressing it does become a moral issue.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Sep. 01, 2016 10:19 PM ET USA

    The refugee crisis is begot by fighting, intimidation, and fear PEROIOD. Refugees return home when the bombing stops; when political stability is achieved. Do these people read the news? Do they have any understanding of the real sin? Or is this just another politician trying to move his agenda forward. Calling Unproven "global warming" a sin strongly smacks of the latter and discredits his eminence enormously.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Sep. 01, 2016 7:25 PM ET USA

    Garedawg, have a little more faith in God. He will provide. For example, if you need more hydrocarbons, send a ship to Saturn's moon Titan. One lake on this moon has more hydrocarbons that all known reserves on earth. You need water? The moon was formerly considered waterless. It is now known to be full of water, as full as the dust particles in interplanetary space. You need metals and other minerals? Just mine the asteroids. God's treasure house. Time to start mining; stop looking for bacteria

  • Posted by: Lucius49 - Sep. 01, 2016 6:06 PM ET USA

    Man-made global warming is a controversial hypothesis. It is a scientific question not Catholic doctrine. The personal predilection for man made global warming is just that a papal personal predilection. On the larger scale care for the environment is of course respect for creation a gift from the Lord.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Sep. 01, 2016 4:13 PM ET USA

    As Catholics, we always knew that Catholic discipline is tough. But never before has it strained credibility. As an atmospheric scientist, I propose that we build and live in caves. Here are the reasons: low absorptivity of visible radiation, natural climate control, keeps humans out of cities (thus preventing urban air pollution), humble place to offer Mass (recall "no room at the inn"), promotes consumption of potatoes (don't require sunlight), no electricity for refrigerators, and so on.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Sep. 01, 2016 11:13 AM ET USA

    Even if there is no man-made global warming, it still makes sense to watch our use of fossil fuels, since they do not get renewed. Even if there is enough fuel for us, there might not be for future generations, so we owe it to them to start thinking ahead.

  • Posted by: Jason C. - Sep. 01, 2016 10:28 AM ET USA

    Obsequium religiosum suspended indefinitely.

  • Posted by: shrink - Sep. 01, 2016 9:11 AM ET USA

    Climate changes all the time; there is no global warming in the last 18 years—both facts are indisputable. CO2 is plant food—indisputable. CO2 has continued to climb over the last 100 years, and there has been both global warming & cooling over the same period. Scientist are now FINALLY acknowledging that the sun is the major driver in planetary warming/cooling—not man, not CO2, the sun; gee, who knew? Our beloved Pope is promulgating madness, in his quest for a socialist paradise.