With the announcement from Vatican City that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio has been elected the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church, a whole bevy of analysis has begun on the newly elected pontiff including his chosen name: Pope Francis. When I heard this, I immediately wondered, is Pope Francis the new “green” Pope?
For folks not following Catholicism, it may have been easy to overlook the green credentials of Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. In 2007, Vatican City became the first carbon neutral country in the world under Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. As part of that decision, a forest was planted to absorb as much carbon dioxide as the Vatican emits annually. Just a year later, over 2,400 solar panels were installed on the Vatican’s papal audience hall. In 2010, the Vatican decided to expand its solar program to 100 megawatts – decidedly making Vatican City the greenest country on the planet. Other green credentials of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI include a publication by the Papal Academy of Sciences noting the dire effects of climate change on glaciers, an entire sermon for the celebration of the World Day of Peace in 2010 titled “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation,” and last but not least, evaluating an all-electric, solar-powered Popemobile.
But what evidence exists to suggest that Pope Francis may be following in his predecessor’s footsteps? Perhaps the biggest hint comes from the name he has chosen: Francis.
St. Francis of Assisi is world famous for his dedication to simplicity and nature. St. Francis is sometimes identified as the Patron Saint of Ecology, Animals and the Environment. St. Francis is commonly depicted as a bald man with a dog or birds by his side. He penned the Canticle of the Sun – a prayer giving thanks for all creatures and nature. His feast day is celebrated every year on October 4th – and it’s fairly common for Catholic parishioners to take their pets (especially dogs) to church to have them blessed on that day. St. Francis’ impact remains today with the Franciscan Friars. Through the Franciscan Action Network, a few friars have risked arrest for protesting against the Keystone XL tarsands pipeline on scientific and moral grounds.
Pope Francis has exhibited at least a few attributes of his predecessor, as well as his namesake St. Francis, that make a fairly strong case that he may be a Green Pope in the making. Consider the following:
- Pope Francis has a masters degree in chemistry;
- He chooses to take public transportation, including buses and subways;
- He finished his doctoral training in Germany – a country widely known for its commitment to renewable energy (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is also from Germany);
- He’s of the Jesuit order, which has an environmental streak (see: EcoJesuit); and,
- He chose the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi and not after St. Francis Xavier. (Xavier was a Jesuit missionary, so it would make sense that he would be the source of the fellow Jesuit, Pope Francis’, name.)
- Update! News outlets are reporting Pope Francis’ inaugural Mass with the following headline: “Pope Francis urges protection of nature, weak”
While the evidence is piling up, perhaps only time will tell if Pope Francis is the new green Pope. If he is, he may be able to help advance the message of Creation Care and protect the planet.