Faith groups plan climate rally as pope addresses Congress

This story appears in the Francis: The Environment Encyclical feature series. View the full series.

by Elizabeth A. Elliott

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As Pope Francis makes his way toward a Sept. 24 address to a joint session of Congress, more than 100 faith-based organizations hope he will also hear their early morning rally on the National Mall that seeks to amplify his urgent call to action on climate change and environmental degradation.

The rally, announced Tuesday, is a response to Francis’ encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home,” said the Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life, during a media call. Faith in Public Life is a strategy center that pursues social justice causes in legislation and the public square.

The faith groups, Butler said, are following the example of Francis by “bringing new alliances and breaking through the partisan divides that we all too often see on these kinds of issues.”

The rally, coordinated by Moral Action on Climate, will begin early Sept. 24, and will include performances and speakers from the climate justice community, as well as those from other perspectives in faith, science, labor and economic justice. Jumbotrons will broadcast the pope’s address to Congress, scheduled for 9:20 a.m., eastern.

The rally is part of a full week of activities promoting moral action for climate justice. On the eve of the pope’s speech, the Franciscan Action Network will lead an all-night multi-faith vigil at the Lincoln Memorial. A day after the address, Moral Action on Climate plans to lobby Congress to demonstrate leadership on this issue.

Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Patricia Chappell, executive director of Pax Christi USA, said on the teleconference that she found it particular fitting that the announcement was made Sept. 1, the day Francis has declared as the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.

“Catholics and people of faith worldwide are marking this occasion by praying for solutions to the climate crisis,” she said. Chappell also noted that Francis addressed Laduato Si’ not just to Catholics but “to every living person on the planet.”

Chappell also noted that Francis addressed Laduato Si’ not just to Catholics but “to every living person on the planet," urging them to act on behalf of the poor and future generations most impacted by environmental destruction.

“What we know is that climate change is real and it is getting worse,” she said. “It is a global problem with grave implications for us environmentally, socially, economically, politically and spiritually.”

Focus on the importance of environmental care transcends religious boundaries. The Jewish community, inspired by news of Laudato Si’ before its release, wrote their own letter for the care of the environment in early June.

“Over 400 rabbis have actually signed a letter on the environment which mirrors Pope Francis’ concern for protecting the planet, the poor and future generations,” said Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, social justice director at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, in Wyncote, Pa.

Liebling said rabbis this year have organized services for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, at the Lincoln Memorial on Sept. 22-23 to atone against the ways they have desecrated the earth.

Evangelicals are also joining in support of the environment.

Rev. Rich Cizek, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, said that evangelicals have been “reading the encyclical over the shoulders of the Catholics.”

Cizek pointed to the need to change thought patterns of people when it comes to care for the environment. He believes we are at that moment now that the pope holds the potential for shaping the thinking of the millions of those who are not thinking that way.

“We know that 57 percent of evangelicals believe that climate change is occurring but only 33 percent or so believe it is human-caused,” Cizek said. “They are among those that need to be persuaded.”

Francis has support from fellow Latinos, said Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.

“It’s not lost on me that Laudato Si’ came from a Latino pope,” he said. “Latino evangelicals are saying ‘amen’ to this call by Pope Francis to address climate change from a moral and spiritual platform. We hear it as a call from someone who knows the deleterious impacts and effects on the world’s most vulnerable.”

“We want to show that this is an interfaith response to the urgency of climate change and Hispanic evangelicals will be one of the voices who say we need to take action now,” Salguero said. 

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