Our Shared, Sacred Earth: Reflecting on the Papal Encyclical



By Jenn Queen

Combating climate change is a moral imperative. Faith leaders have been calling for better policies and encouraging better personal practices to turn the tide of climate change for years. This week, the Vatican released Pope Francis’ latest encyclical (a papal letter sent to all bishops of the Roman Catholic Church stating the Vatican’s position on a particular issue), which details a strong connection between faith and environmental stewardship.

The encyclical is an incredibly significant moment for faith involvement in climate change advocacy. Though a draft version was leaked on Monday to an Italian newspaper, the final version of the encyclical, published in five languages, was released on Thursday. In the encyclical, entitled Laudato Sii: Sulla cura della casa commune (Praised Be You: On the care of the common home in English), the Pope not only raises climate change as a human-created issue, but frames the need to respond accordingly as a moral imperative.

Pope Francis discusses the intimate link between care for human beings and care for the earth and environment, as well as that climate change most dramatically affects the poorest and most vulnerable among us. The Pope grounds his approach to climate change, not only in Catholic religious tradition but also in scientific facts, which collectively inform him that changes must be made and action must be taken. By taking such a position, the Pope is doing essential work in bridging the gap between science and religion, and bringing the Catholics to the climate justice conversation in a real, tangible way.

This past year, I have been thinking a lot about my connection – and the Jewish religious and traditional connection – to the environment. Having recently returned from my first year of rabbinical school in Israel, I think a lot about how each day when I said the Amidah, the centerpiece of Jewish daily prayer, and prayed for the return of the seasonal rain, I did so in the land to which the prayer applies.

In Israel today, the presence or lack of rain has an impact, even on secular Israelis. I felt the tension around me leading up to Sukkot; will the rains come in their appropriate time to provide water, so essential to life and yet so hard to come by in the Middle East? And I felt the relief and joy when the rain came; turning the barren Jerusalem hills a lush green. There is real concern about the rain, when and how much of it falls; life threatens to grind to a halt until the natural world, and God, are prepared to give us what we need to keep living. Seeing and experiencing this illustrated to me that the environment — and the effects of climate change — are significant to our day-to-day lives and wellbeing, and also to our religious and spiritual lives as Jews.

As Reform Jews committed to tikkun olam, healing our world, and justice for those most affected by climate change, we are thrilled about Pope Francis’ essential statement on this very important issue. We greatly anticipate the deeper conversations to come with our faith partners in our continued work toward climate justice, and hope you’ll join the conversation. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Director, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, and Deputy Director, Rachel Laser, will join with United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Director of Domestic and Social Development Mark Rohlena and Catholic Climate Covenant Executive Director Dan Misleh to discuss these questions and more! Tune into the webcast at 1230PM on Wednesday, July 15 on rac.org/enviro and contact legislative assistant Liya Rechtman with any questions.

Jenn Queen is the rabbinic legislative assistant at the RAC this summer and is a second year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). Jenn holds a Master of Public Health degree from the George Washington University and is an alumna of Indiana University. 

 

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