Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, released a teaching document on the environment Thursday, saying there’s an urgent need for global leaders and individuals to dedicate themselves to stopping climate change and ending policies and personal habits that destroy creation.
The document is called an encyclical (pronounced en-SIC-li-cal). It was written in Italian, but its title translates to “Praise Be” in English. A lot of people are talking about it.
Here are some questions and answers on the document:
What is an encyclical?
An encyclical is one of the highest forms of teaching from a pope as he interprets Catholic beliefs. The word encyclical, from the Greek word for circle, means “circular letter.” It’s a letter that is intended to be passed around a community.
What does this one say?
Pope Francis calls for a cultural revolution to correct an economic system in which he says the rich unfairly use the poor. He says this is turning Earth into an “immense pile of filth.” Francis explains the science of global warming, which he blames on the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas. He urges people of all faiths and no faith to undergo an awakening to save God’s creation for future generations.
Has the environment been the subject of previous encyclicals?
No, although previous popes have proclaimed a moral and spiritual duty to protect the environment.
Must all 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide follow what the document says?
The duty to accept what the pope teaches in this letter was much debated months before it was made public. Richard Gaillardetz, a Boston College religion professor, said Catholics are bound to follow the basic church beliefs and social teaching in the document, including those about creation and care for the poor. Gaillardetz said Catholics could disagree with a specific proposal if they believed another option would more effectively fulfill church teaching, but they could not dismiss the pope’s call to act on climate change.
Is the document just for Catholics?
Encyclicals are usually addressed to Catholic priests, members of religious orders such as nuns and other members of the church. But the documents can have a wider influence. Francis clearly framed “Praise Be” to have a very broad reach. He quotes Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, who is known as the “green patriarch” for urging believers to make conservation an part of their faith. At the end of the encyclical, Francis includes two new prayers for creation: one for Christians and another for non-Christians.
What happens to the document after it’s released?
In most cases, encyclicals don’t get the attention of the public for long. This encyclical could be different. The pope has said he hopes the document will influence the United Nations’ end-of-year climate talks in Paris, and he’s expected to raise the issue when he addresses the U.N. General Assembly in September. Bishops, priests and Catholic environmentalists around the world are planning sermons and public events to draw attention to the document, hoping to influence political leaders and persuade people to change their behavior.
— Associated Press