Pope Francis brings to the United States a sense of urgency that has been sorely missing in Washington and on too many of the campaign trails of our endless election season. At the White House on Wednesday morning, the pope spoke as expected about the absolute necessity of protecting the planet. He hailed President Obama for “proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution.” And he said, “Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.”
“When it comes to the care of our ‘common home,’ we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about ‘a sustainable and integral development,’ for we know that things can change,” the pope explained. “Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them. Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities and our societies. To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it.”
That “now is the time” message is a critical one.
There are specific issues to be addressed. And they must be addressed with the “fierce urgency of now” about which Dr. King spoke. It is this understanding that underpins the pope’s argument that “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.”
In the 184-page encyclical that was released earlier this year, and that outlines the agenda he brings to the United States, the pope focused a great deal of attention on issues of climate change. But the discussion of environmental issues was placed in the broader context of a discussion about modern life—including a savvy critique of how technologies are changing that life for better and worse.
At the heart of the pope’s critique is an understanding that “We need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that the problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals.”
Pope Francis well understands, as Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of Network, the national Catholic social-justice lobby, has noted, that “Growing markets will not sufficiently address poverty or environmental problems.”