Yesterday, Pope Francis traveled to the Philippines as part of his two-country visit to Asia this week. Francis made it clear during his press conference aboard the papal airplane that he plans to lift up the poor during his four-visit day visit to one of the largest and most flourishing Catholic countries in the world.
"The central message of this trip will be the poor. The poor who suffered from [2013's super Typhoon] Yolanda and are still suffering the consequences; the poor who have faith and hope. I think of the poor who are exploited, those who suffer many injustices, material, spiritual and existential."
Led by Catholic Relief Services and World Vision, Christian groups on the ground are leading the recovery on the ground after the November 2013 typhoon killed 6,3000 Filipinos. This will please Francis who has said that the Christian community is called to be "bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church, which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security."
Though Francis didn't directly link the November 2013 typhoon to global climate change, he did say that he plans to address the issue and especially its effects on marginalized populations.
With climate change, "man has slapped God in the face," the pope said. "We have taken possession of nature and Mother Earth. God always forgives; we men sometimes forgive; but nature never forgives. I believe that man has gone a bit too far. Thank God that today, many, many people are talking about it."
Francis also expressed frustration with the global community's lack of progress on this issue. Scolding a universal "lack of courage," Francis says he will tell the global community to take stronger action on climate change when he travels to Paris in November to address an international conference on environmental justice. In order to lift up the topic before his November address, Pope Francis will publish an encyclical this summer wholly dedicated to protection of the environment.
But this isn't Francis's issue alone. His trip to the Philippines coincides with the launch of an international group of Catholics dedicated to battling global climate change. In their mission statement, the coalition of groups that form Global Catholic Climate Movement show that caring for creation isn't just a pet project of the Bishop of Rome, but a topline priority for the entire church:
"The basis of our concerns is scriptural and founded on the tradition of the Church. From Genesis through Revelation, Catholics accept as a revealed truth that creation and its order is a good that we must embrace and steward. This has been echoed and championed by Church leaders for two millennia. In response to what God has given the human race—clean air, life-sustaining water, fruits of the earth's harvests, and the bounty of the sea—we are called to honor God our Creator for these many blessings. We are obliged to respect these gifts, which are for all people. For this reason climate change is for Catholics a profoundly spiritual, ethical, and moral issue."
Though it might disconcert some, for Francis and the church addressing global climate change is clearly a religious issue. The message is clear: God calls us to care, sustain and develop creation for the good of everyone--especially those most excluded.