Here’s A Look At How Catholic Churches Are Taking Pope Francis’ Climate Encyclical To Heart

In this Sept., 24, 2015 file photo, Pope Francis shakes hands with school children as he departs the Apostolic Nunciature, the Vatican’s diplomatic mission in the heart of Washington, en route Andrews Air Force Base. The book, “Dear Pope Francis,” with questions posed for the pope from 30 children from around the globe is out March 1, 2016, from Loyola Press in Chicago. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CLIFF OWEN
In this Sept., 24, 2015 file photo, Pope Francis shakes hands with school children as he departs the Apostolic Nunciature, the Vatican’s diplomatic mission in the heart of Washington, en route Andrews Air Force Base. The book, “Dear Pope Francis,” with questions posed for the pope from 30 children from around the globe is out March 1, 2016, from Loyola Press in Chicago. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CLIFF OWEN

It’s been over a year since Pope Francis released his climate encyclical, Laudato Si, which recognized the dangers of human-caused climate change and the moral imperative to address it. Since then, Catholic leaders have been adapting their churches to speak out and take action on climate change. The Catholic Church has a history of recognizing environmental problems, but the encyclical last year has sparked more efforts to make changes.

In January 2015, before the Pope’s climate encyclical, Catholics were already mobilizing for action on climate change when the Global Catholic Climate Movement was founded. The Movement announced the certainty that “anthropogenic [human-made] climate change endangers God’s creation and us all, particularly the poor, whose voices have already spoken of the impacts of an altered climate.”

Late last year, researchers from Yale University and George Mason University found that 19 percent of American Catholics were “much more concerned about global warming” because of the Pope’s position on the subject. Another 34 percent were moderately more concerned. Researchers called this “The Francis Effect.”

The Pope’s Encyclical Isn’t The First Time The Catholic Church Has Spoken Out On The EnvironmentClimate by CREDIT: Shuttershock In advance of Pope Francis’ major encyclical on climate change – to be officially…thinkprogress.orgHere are some of the actions Catholics are taking against climate change in their churches around the world.

Australian Catholic Organizations Divest, Catholic Schools Go Solar

Four organizations publicly divested from coal, oil, and gas extraction industries on the June anniversary of Laudato Si. The organizations that divested are Presentation Congregation Queensland; Presentation Sisters Wagga Wagga; Marist Sisters Australia, and The Passionists — Holy Spirit Province. The announcement was facilitated by the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change, which also released an open letter from several religious leaders urging those in public office to act on climate change in the wake of the Great Barrier Reef’s coral bleaching.


“The decisions are made after much careful consideration and in the knowledge that our decision won’t change things overnight — this is a long term investment in the earth’s future,” said Sister Anne Lane, leader of the Presentation Sisters Wagga Wagga, in a statement.

The organizations are joining a growing divestment movement. Twenty-seven percent of groups that are divesting are religious in nature.

Solar Installations Across the U.S.

The Diocese of Camden, located in New Jersey, is seeking solar installations in schools, parishes, and cemeteries. The initiative has been in the works for three years, but has faced delays through the process of obtaining contractors, utility approvals, and local permits.

Across the country north of San Diego, St. Michael’s Parish has already invested $1.3 million in a solar panel system. A year after the installations, the church is reaping the benefits of going solar. Electricity costs fell to $5,000 a month from around $20,000.


The Pope’s message helped inspire Bishop Robert W. McElroy’s recommendation last December that every parish in the Diocese of San Diego adopt solar-power systems.

“It strikes me this is one area where we can really help the environment, and at the same time it is sound practice economically,” McElroy said to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

He did not issue an order, but around 20 parishes at the time had already switched to solar power.

Catholic Schools Go Solar

In Queensland, Australia, 31 Catholic schools have switched to solar power. The pilot project has resulted in 250,000 dollars of electricity savings per year. The Vatican has responded, asking for Catholic schools around the world to make the switch to solar.

According to Martin Oldfield, company director for Eco Community, which designed the project, the savings Catholic schools could see from lowering their electricity bills in the long term would “mean that money now spent on power bills can be put back into teaching,” reported Catholic Leader.


In San Diego, a Catholic high school plans to finish installing a 1.1 megawatt solar carport system by this fall. The company that the school partnered with, Baker Electric Solar, says the school will save 80,000 to 100,000 dollars per year on its electricity costs.

Another California Catholic school installed 105 solar panels donated by SilRay, a company providing commercial solar solutions to small and midsize businesses. Electricity costs are expected to decrease by 6,600 dollars. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony in May, over 200 students attended.

Virginia Catholics Support Legislation On Coastal Protection

Last August, the Virginia Catholic Conference recognized the local threat of climate change in Norfolk, where the rising sea levels are having a direct effect in parts of the city prone to flooding. Richmond Bishop Francis DiLorenzo addressed over 200 people saying “the Church is not in conflict with science,” at the event in Norfolk.

Local Catholic leaders advocated soon afterward for the Coastal Protection and Resiliency Act to fund coastal resiliency and flooding mitigation projects. The bill did not pass, but the policy efforts recognizing climate change made by Catholic leaders is partly inspired from the Pope’s encyclical last year.

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Thailand Parish Plants 800 Trees For Anniversary

On June 5, a parish in Thailand planted hundreds of trees for a reforestation program in honor of the anniversary of the Pope’s climate encyclical. The parish’s priest told Catholic News Agency that the Pope had “opened a new dimension on the issues and brought a broader perspective, engaging the question with the eyes of spirituality and faith.”

This year’s Earth Day theme was ‘Trees for the Earth.’ Catholics highlighted the importance of tree planting and joined the goal to plant 7.8 billion trees in the next five years. Forests can act as carbon sinks by absorbing carbon dioxide and aid in mitigating climate change.

Archdiocese of Atlanta Launches Action Plan

Atlanta’s climate plan was launched last November in response to the encyclical. Created in coordination with University of Georgia, it highlights what local churches can change to be more environmentally friendly. A church’s options are ranked easy, moderate, or advanced — such as bringing in speakers from environmental fields, upgrading plumbing systems, buying local food, planting trees, composting, providing electric cars to pastors, or installing electric car charging stations.

While there is still much work to be done to mitigate and adapt to climate change, local churches like these are recognizing human-caused climate change and local churches are developing plans to answer the Pope’s call to action.

Restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral Includes Geothermal Energy System

New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral has been in the restoration process since 2012, and the restoration included a geothermal energy system.

Spain’s Cathedral of Palma de Mallorca completed its switch to 100 percent renewable energy through a energy management system certified by the company AENOR. The cathedral dates back to the 13th century, but its energy technology is in line with the future. Its management said “the Consolidated Energy Management Policy is in line with the concern for environmental problems and consequences of climate change recently expressed by Pope Francis I in his encyclical,” reported Energy News.

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Philippines Archdiocese Led 10,000 People In A March Against Fossil Fuels

In a two week long global initiative called ‘Break Free from Fossil Fuels’ this May, Catholics teamed up with other environmental groups around the world for demonstrations aiming to disrupt operations at power plants, pipelines, and coal mines.

In the Philippines, Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of the Lipa led 10,000 people in a march to a local sporting complex, reported National Catholic Reporter. Mass was held at the end of the march where Arguelles and other religious leaders called for an end to the reliance on coal. The march was directly aimed at halting a 600-megawatt coal plant proposed to be built in Batangas City.

Catholics Petition For Climate Action Ahead Of Paris Talks

Before the Pope’s climate encyclical was released, Catholic groups called on global leaders to take climate action. The Global Catholic Climate Movement launched a petition which stated the following:

“Climate change affects everyone, but especially the poor and most vulnerable people among us. Inspired by Pope Francis and the Laudato Si’ encyclical, we call on you to drastically cut carbon emissions to keep the global temperature rise below the dangerous 1.5°C threshold, and to aid the world’s poorest in coping with climate change impacts.”

The Pope endorsed the petition and 900,000 signatures were delivered to President Hollande at the climate talks in Paris late last year.

In April, faith leaders of several different religious groups signed the Interfaith Statement on Climate Change, which demanded that nations ratify the Paris Agreement.

Sydney Pereira is an intern with ThinkProgress.