Catholic higher-ed leaders pledge to wrap Francis' environmental concerns into their mission

This story appears in the Francis in the United States feature series. View the full series.

by Soli Salgado

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Inspired by Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical, 169 leaders of Catholic higher education around the globe -- including 96 presidents of U.S. schools -- signed a pledge to address Francis’ environmental concerns, in particular climate change, within their institutions’ research and engagements.

A wide range of U.S. Catholic universities signed the statement, with University of Notre Dame, Georgetown University, Santa Clara University, Villanova University, University of Dayton, Gonzaga University, DePaul University, the University of San Diego and Loyola University Chicago, among many others, all making the public commitment.

Outside the U.S., university presidents and leaders from more than 30 nations across the globe signed onto the letter. That included 41 schools from 15 Latin American countries, 8 from seven countries in Europe, and six schools in six Asian nations. In addition, schools in Australia, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo also joined in endorsing the statement.

The statement, coordinated by the Ohio-based Ignatian Solidarity Network, says that the challenges Francis lays out in “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” -- changes in lifestyles, models of consumption and production, cultural values -- “presents extraordinary education and spiritual challenges.”

See the full itinerary, including times, for Pope Francis' Sept. 19-27 pastoral visits to Cuba and the US.

“Catholic Higher Education, then, has a vital and challenging role to play in shaping and informing the serious educational and moral dialogues that must take place to respond to this call, to address these crises. Higher educational institutions globally must seek to provide influential leadership in discovering new and life-giving paths to address the pressing emergencies of climate change, social exclusion, and extreme poverty and in uncovering new paths to achieving peace, justice and environmental sustainability for the whole human family and the entire family of creation,” the statement read.

Specific commitments include integrating “care for the planet, integral human development, and concern for the poor within our research projects, our educational curricula and public programming, our institutional infrastructures, policies and practices, and our political and social involvements as colleges and universities.”

“We acknowledge and embrace these moral and religious imperatives to work for a world characterized by global social justice and solidarity which the Gospels, Catholic Social Tradition, and now Pope Francis lay out before us and to which they call us so strongly to dedicate our lives, our work, our energies and our resources,” it said.

Christopher Kerr, Ignatian Solidarity Network executive director who played a leading role in coordinating the statement, said in a press release that it represented a "strong affirmation" from the international Catholic higher education community. He added that the statement, combined with the scientific consensus -- 97 percent of climate scientists agree that global warming over that last century is likely due to human activities -- "should silence those who try to dismiss Pope Francis’s message by questioning his credibility on the issues."

The Catholic higher-ed statement comes ahead of Francis’ visit to the U.S., when he is expected to address climate change during addresses to the U.S. Congress (Sept. 24) and the United Nations (Sept. 25). The Ignatian Solidarity Network has also organized numerous watch parties across the U.S. for Francis' speech to Congress. 

More: “Australia in July could be scene of Jesuit-led climate action” (May 7, 2015)

Following the pope’s visit, Boston College, though absent from the global statement, will hold a four-day conference on Francis and climate change. Beginning Sept. 28, the conference, “Our Common Home: An Ethical Summons on Climate Change,” will feature Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council on Peace and Justice, delivering the Canisius Lecture that afternoon. U.S. Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts will open the conference.

Panels in the following days will look at how faith communities can address environmental issues, the implications of the encyclical, and its influence on the upcoming international climate conference in Paris, COP21, in December.

“The encyclical shows ecological awareness isn’t an optional part of our faith, it is woven into the fabric of who we are as Catholics,” said Daniel DiLeo in the press release, one of the conference organizers and a doctoral student in the Department of Theology. “That is something that has consistently been part of Catholic teachings, rooted in Genesis, that humanity is part of creation, but at the same time has a responsibility to care for and cultivate creation. That is rooted in our faith tradition.”

Editor's note: Additional information was added to this post to clarify the role Ignatian Solidarity Network had in organizing the Catholic higher education leaders statement.

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