New Catholic climate initiative set to launch

All the country’s 19,000 Catholic parishes and 6,150 elementary schools received educational and promotional materials in English and Spanish in the second week of April and have been asked to encourage their parishioners and students to join in the covenant. Parishes have been asked to consider addressing environmental themes in their liturgies the weekend before Earth Day.

“This Catholic Climate Covenant brings together our Catholic commitments to care for God’s creation and for vulnerable people at home and abroad,” said Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., past president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and honorary chairman of the covenant initiative.

In a cover letter to the parish and school materials Bishop Skylstad said the poor and vulnerable “face the worst impacts yet they contribute least to climate change. Sadly, they are likely to suffer the most from its consequences and have the least capacity and resources to respond.”

The centerpiece of the covenant is the St. Francis Pledge to Protect Creation and the Poor, a five-point commitment by individual Catholics and Catholic organizations and institutions to:

  • “Pray and reflect on the duty to care for God’s creation and for the poor and vulnerable.

  • “Learn about and educate others on the moral dimensions of climate change.

  • “Assess our participation -- as individuals and organizations -- in contributing to climate change” through patterns of consumption or conservation.

  • “Act to change our choices and behaviors contributing to climate change.

  • “Advocate Catholic principles and priorities in climate change discussions and decisions, especially as they impact the poor and vulnerable.”

The pledge is named after St. Francis of Assisi because of his legendary love and care for all of nature and his own voluntary embrace of poverty in order to minister to the poor.

“The life and ministry of St. Francis continue to inspire Catholics and all people of goodwill to care for creation and those in poverty,” says a covenant background paper.

Spearheading the covenant initiative is the Washington-based Catholic Coalition on Climate Change.

The coalition says the initiative is being launched “with the help of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment and the full support and cooperation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops.”

The coalition itself was formed in 2006 with the support of the USCCB and the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. It is a collaborative work of 12 national Catholic organizations, including Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Health Association, the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, Migration and Refugee Services of the USCCB, and the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.

Dan Misleh, executive director of the coalition, said a number of other national Catholic organizations have joined the coalition in endorsing the covenant, committing themselves to the pledge and spreading word about it to their members and others.

Among the 18 non-coalition organizations collaborating on the initiative prior to its official national launch are the National Association for Lay Ministry, Catholic Campus Ministry Association, National Black Catholic Congress, National Federation of Priests’ Councils and several justice and peace networks of religious orders.

The archdioceses of Cincinnati and Hartford, Conn., and the dioceses of Stockton, Calif., and Houma-Thibodaux, La., adopted the covenant early.

In a letter endorsing the covenant and pledge Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati said he has authorized the formation of a Climate Change Task Force to help the archdiocese and its ministries and agencies “strategize on how we can live out the five elements of the pledge.”

The coalition has also launched an advertising campaign for the covenant on the theme, “Who’s under your carbon footprint?” with ads placed in national Catholic publications and on Catholic-related Internet sites (including National Catholic Reporter and

Misleh said April 17 that a national media teleconference with webcast on the initiative, originally scheduled for April 22, has been moved up to April 21, starting at 11 a.m. EDT.

Among planned panelists in addition to Skylstad and Misleh are senior officials of Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Health Association, the National Catholic Education Association, and John Carr, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.

A media backgrounder on the covenant and pledge notes that the gradual evolution of a Catholic ethic of environmental stewardship over the decades got a major boost in 1990 when Pope John Paul II issued his World Day of Peace message, “Ecological Responsibility.”

Three years later the U.S. bishops issued “Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching.”

In 1994 they established the USCCB Environmental Justice Program to promote environmental education, action, collaboration and advocacy in a variety of ways.

In 2001 the bishops issued, “Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good.”

“This was among the first and most comprehensive statements on climate change by any faith group and proved to be an invaluable resource that began the promotion of a clear and unique contribution of the Catholic community to the climate change debate,” the backgrounder says.

Jerry Filteau is NCR Washington correspondent.
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