By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Pope Benedict XVI’s message on environmental protection, found in his new encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), has applications both in inspaniduals’ daily lives as well as in the political arena, according to leading U.S. Catholic environmentalists.

“The encyclical is a very important statement for highlighting the Church’s teaching and leadership on the global climate-change issue,” said William O’Keefe, senior director of advocacy for Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services.

“The Holy Father’s given us yet another rallying call of why this is important. We’ve got to make sure that serious climate-change efforts don’t forget the poor,” O’Keefe added in an interview with Catholic News Service.

The Pope’s message on the environment “sanctions and amplifies the work that we’re trying to do ecumenically and on an interfaith basis” among Christians and Jews, said Walt Grazer, former director of the U.S. bishops’ environmental justice program, and currently a consultant to the National Religious Partnership on the Environment.

Pope Benedict, Grazer added, is “trying to lift up this dual concern of care for God’s creation and care for the poor. He has legitimated the mission we’ve taken on.”

Pope Benedict’s words could presage December’s meeting of international leaders in Copenhagen, Denmark, on climate-change issues, said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change.

“There needs to be more robust international agreements on economic life, particularly the ability to have sustainable economic life for all people,” Misleh told CNS.

O’Keefe said CRS, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency, conducted a review of its global programming a year ago, and consequently committed $60 million for adaptation programs to mitigate the effects of climate change on communities.

“This is already in response to what our folks on the ground are saying,” he said. “Whenever our field people say ‘There is a problem that is affecting us here,’ we are forced to ask the question: What can we do with the policy environment?”

The House has already passed a bill on climate issues, and the Senate is expected to consider the legislation after it returns from recess in September. The current bill calls for an initial outlay of about $1 billion in “international adaptation” funds to help poorer nations cope with climate change.

“It starts small and it doesn’t ramp up very fast,” Misleh said. “What the bishops are calling for is at least $3.5 billion and ramping up quickly to $7 billion within a few years of the bill’s enactment.”

“The people who did the least to cause this are going to suffer the most, both here at home and in other countries where they contribute the least to greenhouse gas pollution,” Grazer told CNS. He credited Pope Benedict for “putting that right out there that the nations of the world have to rise above their legitimate but more narrow self-interest.”

The unanswered question, according to Grazer: “Can this kind of solidarity be reflected in the legislation?”

After the Senate considers health care reform legislation upon its return, it will likely consider the climate-change bill. “I can’t predict it’ll pass the Congress, but this is the best chance we’ve had, and will have, for quite some time,” Grazer said.

“The reason we’re concerned about this is because in Haiti, Cuba, Central America, the rate of disaster – hurricanes, weather-related disasters and the severity of those disasters – has increased, and we as a Church are faced with picking up the pieces of those disasters,” said CRS’ O’Keefe.

Climate-change experts have linked the increase in turbulent weather all over the globe to global warming.

“Our partners are faced with responding to those situations,” O’Keefe said. “In Africa, rainfall patterns are already having an impact on how small-scale traditional African farmers are making their livelihood and they are coming to us and saying, ‘What we are doing is not working. Help us.'”

“There’s a need for the Catholic community to recapture some fairly ancient teachings about stewardship, living in harmony with nature, rather than exploiting nature,” Misleh said.

The Catholic Coalition on Climate Change offers the Catholic Climate Covenant – and its St. Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor – as “a really excellent tool to help Catholics both understand and act on climate change from the point of view of their faith,” he added.

Available online at, the pledge asks Catholics to pray about environmental change and stewardship; learn about climate change and Catholic teaching on the subject; assess their own contributions to climate change and act on that assessment; and advocate on behalf of the poor, whose voices usually go unheard.

“The one place where we’re all challenged,” Grazer said, “is the notion of lifestyle that we raise in contemporary society. We’re going to have to look at our lifestyle. … What do I need? What don’t I need?”