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A Franciscan perspective on climate change

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Thanks to Pope Francis, The Pontifical Academy of Science in Rome will soon raise some thoughtful issues for Catholics and for all humanity on the matter of climate change.

Frank
Mazzaglia

St. Francis of Assisi may not have been an environmentalist in the modern sense of the word but there's a lot to be learned from his love for creation. For Francis, the love of creation was influenced by his love for the Creator. That's something to think about as Pope Francis appears likely to release an encyclical on climate change sometime this year much to the dismay of people who deny its very existence. For those who can remember when Christmas was cold and Easter was warm, however, there's enough evidence right there to know that something is certainly happening.

Catholics with a special devotion to St. Francis of Assisi will most likely agree that this remarkable saint walked in a field of dreams. That was his special gift. It provided him with an insight given only to a select few. That field of dreams stirred his imagination to the point where he could see far into the future. Francis saw not just what was, but what could be.

In a twist of irony, Francis contracted an eye disease during a mission to the Middle East in 1219. His sight got worse after that and left him nearly blind for the last two years of his life. It was ironic because despite the frailties of his eyes, Francis had vision that allowed him to see what others could not. Of course, visionaries aren't always appreciated. Lesser souls sometimes question their very sanity. Unfortunately, this even happened to Francis. Nonetheless, he rose above those contemporary critics to become one of the most revered saints in the history of the Church.

On the matter of climate change, Pope Francis has his critics too. Certainly, the Holy Father was clear at a press conference on Jan. 15 when he said, "I don't know if it is all (man's fault) but the majority is, for the most part. It is man who continuously slaps down nature ... We have, in a sense, lorded it over nature, over Sister Earth, over Mother Earth ... I think man has gone too far ... Thank God that today there are voices that are speaking out about this."

Then on Jan. 18 at a meeting with young people at Santo Thomas University in Manila, Pope Francis said, "A second key area where you are called to make a contribution is in showing concern for the environment. This is not only because this country, more than many others, is likely to be seriously affected by climate change. You are called to care for creation not only as responsible citizens, but also as followers of Christ!"

Perhaps, in his own day had he not been so humble, critics of St. Francis might not have dismissed him so easily. He referred to himself as "Io picciolino vostra fra Francesco" ("I, your little brother Francis") and he studied the art of social climbing -- downward. Francis loved the poor, he dined with lepers, and he was a true and trusted friend of birds and animals. But everybody knows that.

Thanks to Pope Francis, The Pontifical Academy of Science in Rome will soon raise some thoughtful issues for Catholics and for all humanity on the matter of climate change. Critics, of course, can be expected to have plenty to say in response.

One can only reflect upon another time and place in the little town of Alvino where St. Francis was giving a sermon. Suddenly, he was interrupted by the loud twittering of a flock of swallows. Now, Francis had a particular love for swallows, but he was heard to say, "My dear brother and sister swallows, I have heard you. Now please listen. I would like to get a word in edgewise."

FRANK MAZZAGLIA IS A COLUMNIST WHO PROVIDES COMMENTARY ON CATHOLIC ISSUES. HE TEACHES AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS LOWELL AND IS ALSO AFFILIATED WITH THE ARCHDIOCESAN MISSIONARY ALLIANCE AND CAN BE REACHED AT FRANKWROTE@AOL.COM.

Frank Mazzaglia is associated with the Missionary Alliance, which is comprised of religious missionary congregations of priests, sisters, brothers, and lay people in the Archdiocese of Boston whose members toil in the vineyards for Christ all over the world.

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