Pope Francis Builds Bridge Between Economy and Environment
Today Pope Francis addressed Congress. Members, both Republicans and Democrats, smiled, cried, applauded, and cheered. As I watched the live broadcast and saw some of the nation’s most powerful leaders hanging intently on the broken English of an old man in a white robe, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for those politicians who let their anger and ignorance keep them away from such a historic event.
The beauty and wisdom Pope Francis conveyed in his environmental encyclical was evidenced again in his address. A true “bridge builder,” he was able to find a common ground between the Republican and Democrat points of view on a variety of issues. He talked about the right to life for the unborn and criminals facing death row. He pointed to the importance of family and voiced his concern about the threats it faces from within and without, particularly threats to the young.
When it came to his discussion about the environment, the pope once again found a common ground between the two parties by linking the creation of jobs with the protection of creation. After acknowledging the tough fight American politicians face in eliminating poverty and hunger, he said:
It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. ‘Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.’ (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to ‘enter into dialogue with all people about our common home’ (ibid., 3). ‘We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).
The message to Congress is clear: we need to rethink our economic structure if we want to protect Americans and America. Our capitalist focus on the creation of wealth is not a bad thing, according to the pope; corporations and companies are not wrong for using natural resources, applying technology, and harnessing the spirit of enterprise. However, real prosperity will only occur if the government encourages those corporations and companies to care about the common good. If factories rely on robots to produce their products and dump the grease and oil from their operations into a nearby river, who benefits?
As always, Pope Francis’s message is one of hope and possibility, not dispair and fear. He realized that what he was urging Congress to do was no easy task, but he reminded them that America possesses the resources to succeed in the endeavor:
I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States — and this Congress — have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a ‘culture of care’ (ibid., 231) and ‘an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature’ (ibid., 139).
The pope’s address was not an hour-long rant about the dangers of climate change as some Democrats hoped and many Republicans feared. Instead, it followed the same theme as his environmental encyclical: our environmental problems are symptoms of our bigger diseases of selfishness, greed, and detachment from nature and each other. If we care about the environment, we will also care about the poor, the vulnerable, the unborn, and the family.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe that Congress is as enlightened as the pope. I still expect Republicans, like Sen. James Inhofe, to fight against any legislation that protects the land from sea to shining sea. And I sincerely doubt many Republican members of the House will join Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s fight to redistribute wealth and hold corporations accountable for their actions. I will accept Pope Francis’s message of hope though, and pray that our Congress takes the steps to protect Americans and America.
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