Catholics now have one more thing to pray about: the environment.
Every September 1, starting this year, will be an annual day of global prayer “for the Care of Creation,” Pope Francis said on Monday.
“I wish to inform you that I have decided to institute in the Catholic Church the ‘World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation’ which, beginning this year, is to be celebrated on 1 September,” Francis said in a letter released by the Vatican.
The timing of the prayer gives the pope another method of focusing global attention on climate change. In Paris in December, world leaders will gather in hopes of negotiating a new agreement on carbon emissions, one that puts the world on a path for less than 2 degrees of warming.
The current plans don’t go far enough, according to Climate Action Tracker, a group of research organizations dedicated to analyzing the world’s progress on the issue. The pope has suggested that he hopes to help change that, raising the profile of environmental issues, and linking them to the broader Catholic defense of the poor.
Francis said he was inspired by Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, who have been praying for the environment since 1980s.
“The celebration of this day, on the same date as the Orthodox Church, will be a valuable opportunity to bear witness to our growing communion with our Orthodox brothers and sisters,” the pope said. “We live at a time when all Christians are faced with the same decisive challenges, to which we must respond together, in order to be more credible and effective.”
Francis has become a leading – some would say radical – defender of the environment. Writing to Vatican cardinals about his decision to create the prayer day, Francis quoted from his earlier papal letter about the need for Christians and all people to protect the environment.
In the letter released in June, Francis called for a “cultural revolution” to save the earth, warning “every living person on this planet” about wrecking the place with “consumerism,” “individualism” and “an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems.”
The 184-page encyclical, one of the highest forms of Catholic writing, stirred furious debate even before its release. That furor is likely to intensify now that the Vatican has created the prayer day, and as momentum builds toward the summit in Paris. Critics have called the pope a communist, and claimed that if he really wanted to help the poor, he would back capitalism, the greatest engine of wealth the earth has ever known.
Instead Francis has attacked the capitalistic pursuit of infinite growth and boundless, buyable pleasures. He diagnosed it as “the deification of the market,” and argued that if we hope to flourish, we need to change the way we live and work.
“When I talk about this, some people think the pope is a communist,” the pope told a gathering of peasants and workers last month. “They don’t realize that love for the poor is at the center of the Gospel.”