Iowa bishop gives presentation on Pope Francis’ encyclical on environment

By Jean Peerenboom | For The Compass | May 18, 2016

Caring for ‘our common home’ is critical, says Bishop Pates

DE PERE — When it comes to the environment, the dialogue we need is not whether or not we act on climate change, but on how we act. And, action is needed now.

That was the message from Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, to a gathering at St. Norbert College on May 9. Bishop Pates’ presentation, sponsored by the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Services and St. Norbert College, was titled “The Pope’s Encyclical: Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” It was based on Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.”

Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, discusses Pope Francis’ encyclial, “Laudato Si’” at the Spring Leadership Gathering May 10 at the KI Convention Center in Green Bay. The previous day, he spoke at St. Norbert College. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)
Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, discusses Pope Francis’ encyclial, “Laudato Si’” at the Spring Leadership Gathering May 10 at the KI Convention Center in Green Bay. The previous day, he spoke at St. Norbert College. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Bishop Pates also spoke at the diocesan Spring Leadership Gathering May 10 at the KI Convention Center in Green Bay.

The message mixed religion and politics and tackled some controversial topics from climate change, which many insist doesn’t exist, to the current U.S. presidential race.

Bishop Pates, a past chairman of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, attended a January conference in Portugal on capitalism and Catholic social teaching. “I was the only American bishop there,” he said. The majority of the others were from Africa, South and Central America.

“When they found out I was from Iowa and the Iowa presidential caucuses were about to be held, talk turned to our election,” he said.

Bishop Pates said the bishops expressed surprise by the tenor of the election rhetoric. “Have we Americans never heard of Pope Francis?” they asked. The conversation, he continued, showed how important elections are and how the rest of the world looks to the United States to take the lead on some issues. “We really are all brothers and sisters,” he said.

This echoes the message of the Laudato Si’, in which the pope cites St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Creatures when he writes:

“St. Francis reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us,” he said. “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.”

Bishop Pates, like Pope Francis, stressed the need for immediate action. “We must engage,” he said as he talked about civic participation. “But how?”

He said the pope has latched on to three issues with regard to the environment, peace and the economy.

His signature writing, Laudato Si’, came out on June 8, 2015. “His message clearly was a call to action. Our house is on fire. … We must reverse ailing Mother Earth’s condition,” Bishop Pates said. “What’s happening is the world is literally being used up.”

He said the use of fossil fuels and deforestation are causes. “Both can be reversed through human ingenuity,” he said.

His state of Iowa, for example, has invested money in converting to wind power. Currently, windmills supply 57 percent of the energy used. Within three years, this is expected to rise to 87 percent. “Wind and sun are renewable energy,” he added.

At a Tel Aviv conference, he said, three strategies were discussed: Recycling food for human use, getting medicine from natural sources not chemical sources, and desalinating water.

This will help the world feed the 9 billion inhabitants it will soon have without dismantling forests, Bishop Pates said, as he expressed support for a green revolution.

“The pope recognizes the crisis is global,” he continued. “He solicits all nations to fight the ecological crisis.”

Bishop Pates praised the Paris Agreement on the global climate finalized at a meeting of world leaders in December. “The pope sees this as an important achievement. It recognizes our grave responsibility to care for the earth.”

Bishop Pates said everyone is called to be attentive to our “throw-away culture,” and that resources are intended for all of us, not just a select few.

“The pope talks about the interaction with natural and social systems. We are faced with crises that are both. We must restore dignity to the excluded and protect the environment” at the same time, he added.

“Climate change,” he said, “is no longer a problem we can leave to a future generation.”

What can Catholics do?

First, he said, each person must begin by being open to the truth. “We need to set aside our biases and have an authentic openness of mind and heart.” He urged people to reflect on this, examine facts and seek objective analyses. Finally, “We are called to prayerfully reflect the divine will to enlighten our hearts and minds on how we should act.

“We all live in global relationship,” he said. “As the pope insists, we are one human family, all brothers and sisters.”

An audience member asked why the pope can’t just mandate that Catholics move on these issues. Bishop Pates said, “The pope leads by example. Mandates aren’t the answer. Each of us must catch the fire for ourselves. You have to look in the mirror and ask what can I do about this?”

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