As spring turns to summer, the Kennebec River comes back to life. Families are drawn to the playgrounds near the water’s edge. Boaters once again explore the river’s currents. Fish swim upstream. Eagle and osprey circle overhead.
Clean air, productive land and flowing waters sustain life in Maine and show us beauty and wonder that feed our souls.
As Catholics, we have a moral responsibility to steward and protect the “creation” that God so lovingly provides for us. After all, “And God saw that it was good.” We also have an obligation to care for the poorest and most vulnerable among us.
We haven’t always been diligent stewards, particularly when it comes to protecting our brothers and sisters from the impacts of environmental degradation and climate change. The damage of climate change is disproportionately felt by the poorest and most vulnerable — like children and the elderly — here in the U.S. and throughout the world, despite their having contributed least to the problem.
The health and economic impacts of carbon pollution and climate change in Maine are clear: Mainers suffer from one of the highest asthma rates in the country in part because of pollution from Midwestern coal-burning power plants; ticks have migrated north, bringing Lyme disease to our state; warming oceans have endangered our $5 million-a-year shrimp fishing industry; and more carbon in the Gulf of Maine has produced acidic waters that threaten the shells of clams, scallops and oysters.
In 2007, Pope Benedict eloquently said, “Preservation of the environment, promotion of sustainable development and particular attention to climate change are matters of grave concern for the entire human family.”
Seventeen years before Benedict’s words, Pope John Paul II devoted an entire speech to our moral responsibility to protect creation and the dignity of the human person, saying in 1990, “It is necessary … that the entire human community — individuals, states and international bodies — take seriously the responsibility that is theirs.”
Pope Francis echoes his predecessors, saying, “Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.”
This month, Pope Francis will clarify the church’s ecological teachings through an encyclical — an authoritative church doctrine — to Catholics in Maine and around the world. The encyclical is a major event, signaling that the Catholic Church is putting climate change at the top of the church’s agenda. It will underscore the moral obligation we have to future generations to address climate change and conserve our environment, especially because it affects the poorest and most vulnerable among us.
The Catholic Church encourages leaders around the world to prudently heed the warnings of nature and calls for action to protect and care for the earth and its inhabitants. Here in Maine, we have an opportunity to call upon our leaders to do just that.
As Catholics and as Mainers, we thank Maine’s U.S. senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, and Rep. Chellie Pingree for taking loving care of God’s creation and for their leadership in addressing climate change.
Maine has long been fortunate to have forward-thinking leaders who have passed innovative programs such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a highly successful, market-based approach to reducing carbon pollution.
We ask Maine’s entire congressional delegation to heed the moral imperative to act on climate change and support the Clean Power Plan, which under the Clean Air Act proposes new standards to limit carbon pollution from power plants across the country. This plan would reward Maine for its climate leadership and ensure that we have fresh air to breathe by cleaning up the worst pollution in the Midwest and elsewhere in the U.S.
“If you did it for one of the least of my children, you did it for me,” Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew. We celebrate the Catholic Church’s commitment to care for God’s creation. We all bear the responsibility to steward and to value our environment for the good of this and future generations.
The Reverend Francis P. Morin is the pastor of St. Michael Parish, serving the greater Augusta and central Maine region. Maureen Drouin is a parishioner at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Hallowell and executive director of Maine Conservation Voters and Maine Conservation Alliance.