Pope’s encyclical will speak directly to the people of Central America

In speculating about the potential selection of a pope from Latin America in March 2013, I wrote

However, in some ways, what might also change with the selection of a Latin American, African or Asian pope, is how the media, Catholics and non-Catholics listen to the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, as well as their predecessors, have spoken very strongly not only on social issues, which get the most attention, but on issues such as the damaging effects of capitalism, poverty, inequality, climate change, the environment, migration, and war. Their stances on these important issues does not excuse them for the areas in which they have failed. But perhaps the selection of a pope from outside of continental Europe will force many to listen, not blindly of course, to what the Church has to say on many other important issues of the day.

Pope Francis has gone above and beyond what I thought might happen but I feel good about what I wrote two years later. Here is Jim Yardley in yesterday’s New York Times discussing the highly anticipated encyclical on climate change that is scheduled to come out of the Vatican later this week.

In the leaked document, Francis often writes eloquently, citing scientific evidence about the human role in global warming. He repeats some of his familiar themes in calling on people to move away from a consumerist model that he says is depleting resources, to the detriment of the poor, and live simpler lives. He also calls on governments to work together for solutions at the global, national and local level — while at times focusing on specifics, like his opposition to carbon credits.

“In this encyclical,” he writes, “I intend especially to engage in a dialogue with everyone about our common home.”

Encyclicals, papal teaching letters to the Roman Catholic faithful, often fail to generate much outside attention. But Francis’ pronouncement on the environment and the poor has been eagerly awaited, especially by scientists and environmentalists, as a major event.

As a still very Catholic region region drowning in poverty and violence, the encyclical will speak directly to the people of Central America. It is one of the world’s most vulnerable regions when it comes to suffering from the effects of climate change – rising sea levels, unstable weather patterns. Many Nicaraguans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans living in the US are the beneficiaries of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) because of climate-induced disasters. While not climate change-related per se, the encyclical’s focus on the environmental will also have implications for mining, hydroelectric, and large-scale agricultural projects in the region. These projects have been known to contaminate water supplies and damage the land, displace the already vulnerable, and contribute to unequal representation of citizens in weak, democratic states.

See also Evan Barry’s The Papal Encyclical: Driving Debate in Latin America for the AULA Blog.