An aerial shot of Herbert Volcano Caldera.

Credit: CreativeCommons / U.S. Geological Survey.

In his recent eco-encyclical (ecology and economy) Laudato Sii (“Praised Be”), Pope Francis invited every person on the planet into dialogue on the many pressing ecological issues facing humanity – and their impact on the poorest people of the world. The reality of climate change “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day” (#25). Humankind is responsible for care of the natural world, and that responsibility extends toward protecting poor and vulnerable people and our children and grandchildren.

Pope Francis made five key points in this teaching document, a new foundation of Catholic teaching on the environment:

1. Climate change and environmental justice are moral issues.

The earth is a gift from God of which we are charged to be protectors. We sin when we act as poor stewards of God’s creation, ignoring the moral dimension of care for the environment. “Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms” (26).

2. Protecting creation and protecting people who are poor are interconnected virtues.

We don’t have to choose between helping the poor or protecting nature. The choices are not simply jobs vs. the environment. An “integral ecology” responds to both human needs and cares for the natural world.” A deep sense of communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion, and concern for our fellow human beings” (#91).

3. We are part of creation and kin to it.

We are made of the same atoms and particles as the rest of nature. St. Francis of Assisi’s description of Sister Earth rings especially true. Pope Francis points our that we share much of the same genetic code with many creatures (#138).

4. Greed is the greatest threat – to the poor and to the earth itself.

Our “throwaway culture” prioritizes the accumulation of wealth for the few over the flourishing of the many and of the good of nature itself. To authentically address the environmental crisis, poverty and economic inequality must be done away with. Human trafficking and organ harvesting are just as much a part of the “throwaway culture” as widespread pollution (#123).

5. The time to act on climate change is now.

The scientific consensus has never been greater on the human contribution and the reality that we are reaching a point of no return. The world’s nations must reach a strong agreement at the December U.N. Paris talks to limit greenhouse gas emissions for us to avoid the worst of its effects: “an agreement on systems of governance for the whole range of the so-called ‘global commons.’”

We have Pope Francis to thank for moving the climate conversation forward, and our tradition of Hinduism, in concert with the universal Earth-honoring wisdom embedded in every community of faith, has much to say about climate change and environmental justice.

Hindus believe that all living beings are drawn forward and connected at the core of their existence through sanatana-dharma. Vedic scholar Ranchor Prime describes sanatana-dharma as “the eternal essence of life. This essence is not limited only to humans. It is the essential quality that unites all beings-human, animal, or plant-with the universe that surrounds them and ultimately with the original source of their existence, the Godhead.”

In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna, the Personality of the Divine, says that he is the “taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon…the original fragrance of the Earth.” Our Hindu teachings (sastra) and our practice (sadhana) calls us to experience the inherent presence of the Divine in every atom of creation. We are called as practitioners (sadhakas) to offer our entire being in devotion (bhakti) to the Divine and therefore also to the Earth. The values and practices of bhakti, and of Hinduism as a whole, are inherently Earth-honoring when understood properly. We offer our gratitude and solidarity to Pope Francis for also upholding these values and practices in the Catholic tradition, showing the universality of our common faith.

Because of our belief in the urgency of care for all of ecology, we join Pope Francis in protecting the natural world, people who live in poverty, and indeed all humanity. Most urgently we call for a strong climate agreement, a much-needed first step in protecting our environment and our brothers and sisters around the world from the most devastating effects of climate change. The current crisis provides an opportunity to demonstrate to the world the hope present within our faith, and live out our responsibilities as stewards/viceregents/caretakers of our Creator.

The coming days, weeks, and even years will see much reflection on this groundbreaking encyclical. But we need more than study, Pope Francis insists – we need action. On June 28, at noon in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, religious and secular leaders from around the world will march to thank Pope Francis and call for a strong U.N. climate agreement on greenhouse gas emissions. Church bells will ring at noon local time around the world as shofars sound, gongs are rung, and other joyful noises emanate from houses of worship on all continents.

The One Earth, One Human Family march and these “joyful noises” will be the first fruits of the Pope Francis’ encyclical, an interreligious response in the spirit of global solidarity – among all humanity with all Creation – to stand with Pope Francis in insisting on a strong global climate agreement.

Sunita Viswanath and Christopher Fici, GreenFaith Fellows, on behalf of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus.

Sunita Viswanath has worked for over two decades in women’s rights and human rights organizations. Sunita was raised in an Andhra Hindu family, and always felt that it was her Hindu values and beliefs that motivated her insistance on justice and human rights. However, she did not find that there was a Hindu voice or presence in the movements for justice of which she was a part. Sunita co-founded Sadhana in order to bring together these two parts of her journey: her activism for human rights and her identity as a Hindu.

Christopher Fici is a Hindu-American activist and writer who graduated from the University of Michigan and, after spending five-and-a-half years studying and training in Gaudiya Vaisnava asramas, entered the halls of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, the oldest independent Christian seminary in America. He received an M.A. in eco-theology and his master’s thesis was on “The Anticipatory Community and the Yoga of Ecology.” At Union, he is one of the project leaders of The Edible Churchyard and will be working towards his Master’s degree in Sacred Theology in 2014-2015. He is also part of the GreenFaith Fellowship Class of 2014 where he met some of the wonderful founding board members of Sadhana.

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