“Listen to the voice of creation,” Pope Francis urges in his message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, published from Rome on July 16, 2022.
His entreaty provides both a theme and an invitation for the Catholic Season of Creation, an ecumenical phase dedicated to creation care beginning on September 1, the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, and continuing through October 4, the date of the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Continuing his theme, the pope observes: “If we learn how to listen, we can hear in the voice of creation a kind of dissonance. On the one hand, we can hear a sweet song in praise of our beloved Creator; on the other, an anguished plea, lamenting our mistreatment of this our common home.”
Songs of creation fill Pope Francis’ message. He encourages the church to echo Saint Francis, the patron saint of animals and the environment, who sang, “Praise be to you, my Lord, for all your creatures.”
Incorporating the words of a psalm into his reflection, the pope urges, “Let us join the psalmist in singing, ‘Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!’”
“Tragically,” the pope writes, “that sweet song is accompanied by a cry of anguish. Or even better: a chorus of cries of anguish.” He then names various created beings who join in this anguished cry.
First, he laments the species of plants and animals that are quickly going extinct, whose “hymns of praise” are “silenced.”
Next, the pope identifies the suffering of poor and marginalized people, the groups most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change.
Third, he points to the pain of Indigenous peoples worldwide, who are witnessing the devastation of their ancestral lands for economic gain.
Finally, Pope Francis elevates the voices of the youth around the globe who are begging adults to take action to prevent further climate crises.
“Listening to these anguished cries, we must repent and modify our lifestyles and destructive systems,” he writes.
The pope warns that climate change is a crisis that merits attention at individual and communal levels. Attitudes and behaviors toward creation require “conversion” and must change.
He names one opportunity for change as the COP27 conference on climate change, which will occur in Egypt this upcoming November. Pursuing a global maximum temperature increase of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a goal set out in the Paris Agreement, will require intense cooperation from nations around the world.
“This means ‘converting’ models of consumption and production, as well as lifestyles, in a way more respectful of creation and the integral human development of all peoples, present and future, a development grounded in responsibility, prudence/precaution, solidarity, concern for the poor and for future generations,” Pope Francis writes. “Underlying all this, there is need for a covenant between human beings and the environment, which, for us believers, is a mirror reflecting ‘the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.’”
A further opportunity for collective change named by the pope is the COP15 summit on biodiversity, scheduled to be held in Canada in December 2022.
He exhorts readers to “pray and urge nations” to “reach agreement on four key principles.”
First, “to construct a clear ethical basis for the changes needed to save biodiversity.”
Second, “to combat the loss of biodiversity, to support conservation and cooperation, and to satisfy people’s needs in a sustainable way.”
Third, “to promote global solidarity in light of the fact that biodiversity is a global common good demanding a shared commitment.”
Finally, “to give priority to people in situations of vulnerability, including those most affected by the loss of biodiversity, such as indigenous peoples, the elderly and the young.”
The pope contends against the injustice of the increased challenges that poorer countries face as a result of the climate crisis, emphasizing the “ecological debt” and corresponding responsibilities of affluent countries and organizations that have devastated the environment.
He continues, “In the name of God, I ask the great extractive industries – mining, oil, forestry, real estate, agribusiness – to stop destroying forests, wetlands, and mountains, to stop polluting rivers and seas, to stop poisoning food and people.’”
“Mindful of the exhortation of Saint Paul to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep (cf. Rom 12:15), let us weep with the anguished plea of creation,” Pope Francis concludes. “Let us hear that plea and respond to it with deeds, so that we and future generations can continue to rejoice in creation’s sweet song of life and hope.”