VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Pope Francis on Tuesday warned that “we are running out of time” in the global climate crisis and beseeched nations and individuals to come together to “restore the land.”
“The pandemic has brought us to a crossroads,” the pope said in a message on the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation (Sept. 1).
“We must use this decisive moment to end our superfluous and destructive goals and activities, and to cultivate values, connections and activities that are life giving,” he said.
Here is a video with Pope Francis' prayer intention for the environment distributed by the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network:
The Argentine pope stressed the importance of global cooperation, called for the elimination of debt for vulnerable countries and appealed to nations to "do everything in our capacity" to follow the requirements of the Paris Agreement.
Francis’ words kick off the “Season of Creation,” a month-long ecumenical effort by faithful and religious organizations to raise awareness on the state of the world’s environment. This year, the theme is “Jubilee of the Earth” to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
While the message has global significance due to its theme and urgency, it also provides further insight into Francis’ reflections on the impact and aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, Italian Bishop Domenico Pompili told local news outlets that Francis is preparing his third encyclical to focus on the economic, environmental and spiritual change that is necessary to address today’s modern challenges.
This year also marks the 5th anniversary of Francis’ second encyclical, “Laudato Si,” which focused on the need for a concerted and global effort for sustainable development and social justice.
The pope’s message on Tuesday called for the Jubilee to be a time to “remember, return, rest, restore, and rejoice.”
“We need constantly to remember that everything is interconnected,” Francis wrote, quoting his “Green encyclical,” which places human beings in relationship with God, their brothers and sisters and all creatures on the planet.
“We have broken the bonds of our relationship with the Creator, with our fellow human beings, and with the rest of creation,” he said. “We need to heal the damaged relationships that are essential to supporting us and the entire fabric of life.”
People must return to the relationship with God and each other, he said, “especially the poor and the most vulnerable.” Francis emphasized how the Jubilee calls us to “free the oppressed and all those shackled in the fetters of various forms of modern slavery.”
The pope underlined the urgency of the crisis, pointing to the consequences of inaction that are already present in the world: climate disasters, growing injustice amid the pandemic and the disintegration of bio-diversity. He called these “wakeup calls in the face of our rampant greed and consumption.”
“Today we hear the voice of creation admonishing us to return to our rightful place in the natural created order — to remember that we are part of this interconnected web of life, not its masters,” Francis said.
Rest was another key point of the pope’s message; he acknowledged that today’s way of life doesn’t allow respite for nature’s limited resources, from forests to fields to oceans.
“Creation is groaning!” Pope Francis said.
“We should not forget the historic exploitation of the Global South that has created an enormous ecological debt, due mainly to resource plundering and excessive use of common environmental space for waste disposal,” Francis said. “It is a time for restorative justice.”
Once again, the pope made his appeal to eliminate the national debt of developing countries, especially as they face the unforeseen economic, social and health challenges posed by the pandemic.
Francis’ proposal for restoration focuses on providing justice for indigenous communities that, as caretakers of the land, they “may regain control over its usage.” The pope had put a spotlight on the plight of indigenous communities during the summit of bishops on the Amazon region in October 2019.
“We also need to restore the land,” he said. “Climate restoration is of utmost importance, since we are in the midst of a climate emergency. We are running out of time, as our children and young people have reminded us.”
Not only did the pope stress the importance of the Paris Climate Agreement, but he also appealed for nations to be more ambitious with reducing emissions ahead of the November Climate Summit in the United Kingdom.
Francis’ support for the Paris Agreement comes after the United States announced its intention to withdraw from the climate deal. Other non-signing members are Iran and Turkey.
While “the cries of the earth and of the poor have become even louder and more painful,” the pope said, there are still signs of “the Holy Spirit inspiring individuals and communities around the world.”
The air and waters have cleared, and animals have returned to places they had abandoned, the pope said, noting that the pandemic “has given us a chance to develop new ways of living.”
Amid this global change and climate emergency, Francis acknowledged an opportunity to rejoice as “we see the gradual emergence of a great mobilization of people from below and from the peripheries who are generously working for the protection of the land and of the poor.”