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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
The Observer

Pope Francis pleas for a response to climate change with ‘Laudate Deum’

On Oct. 4, 2023, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis released his sixth apostolic exhortation, “Laudate Deum,” as a follow-up and addendum to his previous encyclical “Laudato Si’,” released in 2015.

The exhortation, drawing both its title and opening paragraph from St. Francis’s command to “praise God for all his creatures,” deals with the state of climate change policy.

However, it differs from “Laudato Si’” in that it presents a more focused critique of those responsible for increased greenhouse emissions. Among those he faults for the exacerbation of climate change are gas and oil companies, along with countries that place national interest above the common good, both of whose current course of action he calls “petty” and “suicidal.”

Though Pope Francis said he sees the poor as being those who will suffer most at the hands of changing ecosystems and rising temperatures, he reminds his audience that these consequences will occur on a global scale and that climate change is in turn something that must be fixed on a global scale also.

Fr. Emmanuel Katongole, professor of theology and peace studies, said he approved of the strength of Pope Francis’s message.

“I believe the Pope's hope is that this should lead to a number of conversations within the Catholic Church and the global stage, especially to those on the fence,” Katongole said. “That's why he takes the time to address those who deny climate change or those who think the Pope has no role in commenting on secular affairs. Yet this is an issue that pertains to the survival of all and it should be treated as such. ... It’s for that explicit reason that he’s justified in interjecting himself into the conversation, especially on the policymaking level.”

The release of this exhortation is meant to coincide with the upcoming 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai this November, with Pope Francis specifically calling for those in attendance to be “strategists capable of considering the common good and the future of their children, more than the short-term interests of certain countries or businesses.”

As a result, “Laudate Deum” has drawn criticism from secularists feeling that the pope’s goal in attempting to influence global policy is inappropriate for someone of his position. Pope Francis is no stranger to this particular comment, having released “Laudato Si’” in 2015 with the similar goal of influencing the upcoming COP21. During COP21, the Paris Agreement, an agreement meant to keep the increase of average global temperatures to under 2°C — with the concurrent aim of decreasing them to 1.5°C — was reached.

“He absolutely has the moral authority to issue a statement,” Katongole said. “This is not just the issue of a single nation. This is why the emphasis on multilateralism comes, to show what kind of political process and global dialogue is necessary for us to live in this world together, lest we all perish together. He really hopes that this will become a major political priority, especially to the world's leading countries.”

In delivering “Laudate Deum,” Dr. John Cavadini, a professor of theology and director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life, said that Pope Francis hopes to transcend religious boundaries in his plea for the pursuit of global cooperation while also noting the special role Catholics are consequently granted.

“Those who wreak environmental havoc often seek to displace the blame from their own entrenched, vested interest onto the poor,” Cavadini noted. “This is something the Pope constantly beseeches us to act against as a collective. He specifically addresses all people of goodwill, regardless of religion. Yet he also reminds Catholics that this is all that we have. As Catholics, we have a special responsibility to exemplify stewardship for God’s creation.”

Katongole said that individual actions are at the heart of these causes.

“In this exhortation, the hope that he points out is in these burgeoning grassroots initiatives all over, ones already responding to the call at hand. It is my sincere hope that the change that is needed will occur through them in response to this call,” Katongole said.

COP28 will convene in Dubai on Nov. 30 before concluding on Dec. 12. The extent of the change Pope Francis advocated for in “Laudate Deum” remains to be seen until then.