There’s still much that needs to happen for the Catholic church to fully grow into the vision that Pope Francis and grassroots church organizers have laid out, especially in the U.S. and Europe. The outgoing president of the Conference of Bishops in the United States—the country that bears the greatest responsibility for climate change, and which has both the economic resources and political clout to make a real dent in the problem—called climate change “important but not urgent” in 2019, in a statement one Catholic reporter described as “at odds not only with the science but with the pope.”
In Poland, the most Catholic nation in Europe, Laudato Si’ has had “little impact” and was even described by one local newspaper as being “anti-Polish” because it calls for a divestment from coal, which is a cornerstone of the nation’s economy. And even though leaders like Minani Bihuzo are finding concrete ways to enact Laudato Si’ in places like the Congo, he says there’s more to be done in terms of building true momentum throughout the African church.
Still, there’s plenty to be hopeful about. If the 1.3 billion Catholics living today learn to embrace Pope Francis’s environmental teachings as firmly as the church in Latin America and the Philippines have, it would change the world in unimaginable ways. In Patricia Gualinga’s mind, that would certainly be good news—which is what the Catholic “gospel” has claimed to be all along. And as far as Hughes is concerned, this kind of urgent action is the only option for Catholics who want to honor the ethic at the core of their religious tradition.
“We oppose environmental destruction because of our faith. It’s not an extra; it’s not an appendix,” he says. “It’s at the heart of the matter as believers in the God who sustains life.”