Our congratulations go to Dan Misleh, executive director of Catholic Climate Covenant, who received this year’s Harry A. Fagan Award from the Roundtable Association of Diocesan Social Action Directors. This annual award honors an individual or individuals who have made unique contributions to the achievement of the Catholic vision of social justice.
Misleh was honored for his work in engaging Catholics at the national, state and diocesan levels “in a serious and sustained conversation about a Catholic approach to climate change, focusing on the promotion of the common good, the protection of poor people and the exercise of prudence to more fully implement the U.S. Catholic bishops’ 2001 statement on climate change.”
In his acceptance speech, where he first thanked his colleagues, friends, mentors and family for their support over the years, he also expressed his hopes for Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on human ecology and the very difficult challenges that lie ahead:
I hope Pope Francis reminds us that, as Pope Benedict did so eloquently, we must “strengthen that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.” From whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.
In the context of our environmental conundrum, I hope Pope Francis reminds us that God only asks that we choose, each day, to become more human. And to be more human means that we must dive forever deeper into a greater appreciation of beauty: the beauty of nature, the beauty of love, the beauty of simplicity. I hope Pope Francis reminds us that these choices are not hard if we’re paying attention to the path, the journey, laid out before us; and that when we choose rightly, life in abundance will follow.
I hope Pope Francis helps us to focus on the unique and special place of our human species on this Earth, but also to remind us that all of creation gives glory to and is a reflection of God. We know this because, as the Evangelist John tells us, “All things came to be through God, and without God nothing came to be.” (John 1:3). Or as the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins reminds us: “The world is charged with the Grandeur of God.”
And I hope Pope Francis helps us to realize that because of our uniqueness, we are, in fact, the only species capable of consciously choosing a path that leads back to God. If we’re on the right road and paying attention, we will recognize, as the Psalmist says, that the rivers do clap their hands and the hills sing for joy. (Ps 98) Or even grander, that because we are, physically, made up of the very stuff of the universe, perhaps we are the universe reflecting on itself, as the Passionist priest Thomas Berry said and as the Psalmist knew by intuition. And I hope that if Pope Francis does say something like this that the realization shakes us to our core and stops us in our tracks as we contemplate anew how we live our life’s journey.
Catholic Rural Life, as an active member of the Catholic Climate Covenant, will be fully engaged in this effort. As Dan emphasized in his remarks, there are enormous moral consequences that demand action in the face of climate change. As Christian disciples, we must get beyond political partisanship and find unity in the care of creation as faithful followers of the Gospel message of peace, justice, and concern for the poor.
Our efforts will focus on sharing Catholic social teaching in effective ways and continuing to join with those organizing for social justice. Stewardship of Creation is one of our areas of impact that we intend to develop and expand in light of the forthcoming encyclical of Pope Francis. Stay tuned!