As the world awaits the most talked about writing to come out of the Vatican in perhaps decades, Associate Professor Tiziana Dearing provides a hopeful voice in WBUR’s online magazine Cognoscenti.
“Pope Francis may be the right man at the right time to bring inherently religious values about poverty, the economy and the environment to a broader community,” she writes.
In the piece, Dearing examines why, first and foremost, an encyclical on the environment has to center around those living at the margins of society, across the globe. After all, meeting the poor where they are has been the center of Francis’ mission since he ascended to the papacy.
Which brings us back to Laudato Si. Poverty compounds and concentrates the impact of climate events, whether droughts, earthquakes, rising sea levels or severe pollution. Those without resources have the least ability to flee or safeguard against the sheer force of environmental blows. They have fewer, if any, financial and material resources to recover after the fact.
Further, environmental preservation is a nicety when survival is on the line. If you’re cold and you don’t have wood to keep you warm, you’ll burn a tire. Air quality is too high up the hierarchy of needs to merit much consideration. There’s a saying in business: “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” Well, poverty eats environmentalism at all three meals, and environmental disasters eat the poor, blessed though they be.
If reports based on the leaked draft are any indication, Laudato Si will feed weeks of political discussion about everything from global warming and extractive mining to third world economic development. That’s why it is important to draw attention now to themes of the environment as they relate specifically to the poor and marginalized. While we debate the science of temperatures and ice caps, let us practice solidarity in our solutions and give preference to those who bear the brunt of our environmental sins today.
This isn’t the first time Dearing has written about Pope Francis. In 2013, she wrote an open letter to the newly elected pontiff in Cognoscenti. Last year, she argued that the Pope is in fact the world’s greatest social innovator, in an article for the Huffington Post.
Addendum: On September 17, 2015, Dearing went on NPR’s On Point to discuss the Pope’s impending visit to America. Listen here.