WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Few papal encyclicals have been as
eagerly awaited as Pope Francis' upcoming statement on the
While no date other than early summer for its release has
been announced, anticipation is building among Catholics as
well as non-Catholics and advocates for the environment.
Based on the pope's past statements, they expect the document
will call people to protect human life and dignity through
greater appreciation and preservation of God's creation.
What Pope Francis is expected to say has its roots in God's
creation of the world, Dan Misleh, executive director of the
Catholic Climate Covenant, told the First Friday Forum of
Lorain County in Elyria, Ohio, in early April.
"Pope Francis is first a priest and a pastor," Misleh
explained. "He is a Catholic Christian who is reflecting on
and articulating the best of our tradition.
"Let us remind ourselves that our creation care tradition
goes back to Genesis, not Earth Day. Let us remind ourselves
that this ancient teaching is the teaching that was familiar,
too, and articulated in new ways by Jesus Christ, reinforced
by the witness of St. Francis, expounded upon by St. Thomas
Aquinas as well as by St. John Paul and especially Pope
Benedict, the 'green pope.'
"Let us remember that what Pope Francis is offering here and
will offer in the encyclical is not new teaching, but a new
application of that old teaching," Misleh said.
That understanding has made it easier for organizations such
as the U.S. and Australian Catholic bishops' conferences,
Catholic Relief Services, Catholic advocacy groups and local
environmental ministry programs to prepare resources for
disseminating and implementing the pope's message.
Representatives of Catholic organizations told Catholic News
Service they are not only preparing for active study of the
encyclical in parishes and schools, but that they are hopeful
the document will open doors with leaders of other faiths and
religious traditions, secular environmental groups and
policymakers in the U.S. and around the world.
The encyclical and follow-up programs also are being seen as
a way to build momentum for Pope Francis' first U.S. visit in
September and move world leaders to reach a climate change
pact during the U.N. Climate Change Conference meeting in
Paris Nov. 30-Dec. 11.
"We want to ensure as best we can that this encyclical is not
just written and stuck on a shelf in a library and discussed
only by theologians and others in schools. We want this to be
a call to action," said Patrick Carolan, executive director
of the Franciscan Action Network.
Carolan will be in Rome May 6-8 to meet with representatives
of the Global Catholic Climate Movement to discuss how they
can best develop and share resources based on Pope Francis'
message. A handful of GCCM members were to meet with Pope
Francis as well during an audience May 6.
Meanwhile, organizations such as the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Climate
Covenant and Catholic Rural Life are working on joint
programs as well as complementary resources to share the
The bishops will discuss steps to spread the encyclical's
message during its spring meeting in June in St. Louis.
"As with any encyclical, I think the conference is going to
give an analysis, a read of it, provide some content for
people who want to get to know the document," said Mark
Rohlena, director of the bishops' Office of Domestic Social
Development and its Environmental Justice Program.
CRS planned to highlight its work around the world in
communities already affected by climate change, said Joan
Rosenhauer, executive vice president for U.S. operations for
the agency. "We want to lift up those stories to illustrate
what the Holy Father is talking about," she told CNS.
"He's been talking about the intersection of the environment
and humanity and the dignity of every person and care for the
poor," Rosenhauer explained. "We can illustrate what he has
been talking about."
CRS unveiled a new page on its website April 22, Earth Day,
offering elementary school programs, a prayer and links to
other resources in preparation for the encyclical.
The Catholic Climate Covenant is developing a series of
videos outlining the church's long teaching tradition on the
environment. Misleh said they will be part of an online and
social media effort the organization is planning.
In addition, Misleh and his staff are planning to send homily
aids to parishes as a way to encourage priests to discuss the
encyclical at Masses.
Around the world, church organizations and Catholic
environmental advocates also are preparing educational
programs, pamphlets, study guides, classroom aids and special
events to introduce and share Pope Francis' message.
"The encyclical just ups the ante in every sense, which is
energizing and wonderful. It provides great impetus," said
Jacqui Remond, national director of Catholic Earthcare
Australia, the ecological program of the Australian Catholic
Remond told CNS the office is working with Caritas Australia
to host an information session on the encyclical in August at
Parliament House for all elected officials. She called such
sessions crucial to helping policymakers understand the
church's teaching and the need to act to protect creation.
The real effect of the encyclical will be felt locally in
parishes, schools and neighborhoods.
Father Robert Sanson, senior parochial vicar at St. Peter
Parish in North Ridgeville, Ohio, is expecting to use the
encyclical as a way to share the church's teaching with
parishioners who may not be familiar with it.
"I hope to be able to carefully articulate the difference
between the church's moral position and political posturing
that creates so much divisiveness," he said. "We have to
raise the issues of fracking, of capital punishment, of
ethical investing and hope they will create a conversation as
Pope Francis has asked us."
Sister Jean Verber, a member of the Dominican sisters in
Racine, Wisconsin, said it will be important for parishes to
engage their members so they better understand why and how
Pope Francis is calling each person to take better care of
"The pope has a very significant role to play here it all
goes well," she said. "It's very important that people know
this and it's one of the ways to engage them."