Pope Francis: prioritising social justice.

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Bruce Duncan. 

16.MoralClimateAction.WDC.24September2015, Elvert Barnes, flickr cc.

Pope Francis launched his encyclical Laudato Sí in June 2015 to help mobilise support behind the Sustainable Development Goals and international efforts to address global warming.

Echoing his encyclical, Francis’s speech to the US Congress was very significant, as was his address to the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September, calling for increased efforts to address climate change, abolish poverty and hunger, rejig economies to increase social equity, moderate consumption, protect the environment and the planet as our common home, and improve dialogue and cooperation among nations to secure lasting peace. He made this speech as the UN General Assembly met to endorse the Sustainable Development Goals to put in place programs of action to help achieve these aims.

As well as giving increased priority to social justice concerns, Francis has also embedded these with a firm theological grounding, as implied by belief in the Incarnation itself: that God in Jesus has invested God’s very self in the human story, and the story of the planet itself as part of creation.

Francis sees the whole of creation as a work of grace, in “the caress of God”, sustained and loved by God. The struggle for social justice, equity, sustainability, and human rights are our God-given tasks to protect and enhance the wellbeing of every person as a living image of God, and to care for the entire planet in all its wonder and complexity.

He insists that religion must not divert us from our earthly responsibilities, but should increase our concern about life in this world, especially the wellbeing of the poor and marginalised. As Jesus said of the hungry and homeless of his day, that was God in the cloak of the poor.

The Pope has called for an end to the so-called “culture wars” in the Church. He has not abandoned the right-to-life agenda, but does not want that to be the dominant lens through which to see current issues. He wants to broaden the focus and resituate pro-life issues within the broad context of a world facing many other crises.

Hence, he is bringing social justice issues to the forefront of concern. He does not see social justice as a rival to the Gospel, but as an essential dimension, and indeed demand, of the Gospel today.

What does fully living our responsibilities today mean in practice, according to Pope Francis? He urges us to :

  • Be attentive to the signs of the times
  • Do what is manageable for each of us personally
  • Look for and affirm the good and values in other religious and secular traditions
  • Develop structures to promote this collaboration for the common good
  • Advocate strongly for the poor and disadvantaged
  • Encourage people with skills and expertise to form or join networks of concern and solidarity
  • Promote movements of solidarity against hunger, poverty, etc
  • Listen closely to experts in economics, sociology, the sciences, etc
  • Support other groups and organisations promoting human wellbeing, like the UN and other international organisations, as well as local networks

Paris conference on climate change

It is not surprising, then, that representatives of the recent Synod of Bishops issued a statement on 26 October appealing for purposeful action at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 21), due to open in Paris in late November, when international leaders meet to sign legally binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Representatives from the world’s seven continental areas appealed for a “fair, legally binding, and truly transformational agreement” to address global warming and avoid the catastrophic consequences threatening millions of people.

They called for a complete decarbonisation of the economy by 2050, and for new models of lifestyle and development. They said those countries responsible for most of the greenhouse gases are ethically obliged to take the lead in emissions reduction, and to help poor countries adjust and raise living standards. Synod members called for a new economic growth model which would ensure inclusion of the poor, social equity, sustainability and decent living standards for all. They see this conference as a decisive moment for action to redress climate change.


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