Dear Pope Francis,
Buona Sera! I hope you’re feeling well – and are as healthy and happy as can be!
I’m writing you because I have been hearing all around these days that when you’re not visiting South Korea, cleaning out the Vatican Bank, inspiring hope that the Church is starting to turn itself around in positive ways, or challenging the mafia (for heaven’s [and Earth’s] sake, please be careful!), you’re writing an encyclical letter on our ecological mission as the human family. I was just part of a worthwhile conference at Seattle University (a Jesuit university I want you to know!) and it highlighted a number of things I’ll be looking for when I get your letter.
First, I appreciate the fact that you haven’t pulled any punches when you’ve spoken out on issues, but have said what you meant and meant what you said. That gives me hope. Keep it up. Your letter has to be honest and urgent, spiritual, and radical. It can’t let people listen or read for a while, yawn, and then go back to their normal lives. Things have gone too far already. For example, we learned at the conference that a sea level rise of 4 feet this century is already guaranteed, unstoppable – with a 10 foot rise possible and even likely unless we cut our fossil fuel emissions drastically and in a hurry.
I’m sure that is not good news for Buenos Aires, your last home. In fact, we will have seawater and storm surges in a number of our coastal cities too. When you come to the U.S. this fall, you might want to add New York, Charleston, Miami, and New Orleans to your itinerary while it’s still possible to visit them.
So you have to make the letter strong, but you also have to give us some hope so that we don’t just throw up our hands in despair. That’s not an easy line to walk, I know; but it’s the one we have to navigate [pun intended!].
We also learned at the conference how thoroughly everything is connected. You need to help people see that. The way the world economy is structured and the values it promotes and serves have been a key driving force getting us to this crisis place. You need to help us see the connections and point us in more healthy directions than market competition and the futile hope of never-ending economic growth. You have already spoken well about the dehumanizing forces driving our economy; make it inescapably clear that they are destroying Earth as well.
The economy is connected to politics too, of course. The lack of political will to do what is needed for the world as a whole is a disgraceful sign of the corruption of our politics. The sociological realities of who is suffering from climate change already are in perfect harmony with your call to us to end poverty and tend with love to the most vulnerable in our societies. Open our eyes to the ways our culture are driving these forces of human and environmental death and destruction. You are right when you say these are crucial Life issues in which the Holy Spirit is calling us to action.
I’m wondering how you’re going to handle the fact that the Christian interpretation of the Creation in Genesis has for so many centuries legitimated the thoughtless use and careless abuse of creation. You of all people know that ‘confession is good for the soul,’ so I think it would be wise to approach this in humility, contrition, and with a really serious purpose of amendment. You’re good at that and it is so important for a clear-eyed and honest look at our situation.
We also need you to help us in the wealthy parts of the world to accept the need for repentance, to grieve what we must let go of in our lives so others on the planet can have what they need for dignified and healthy lives. Can you help us see that simpler, more relational and communal living are actually more fulfilling and happier for humans? This is the work of a good pastor, and we know you are that. We will work with you, but please pastor us well.
I also hope you will be clear and strong on the institutional and systemic changes you want to see happen. Mobilize the Church’s institutional resources: its moral authority, its teaching and communication resources [you certainly know how to get press!], its purchasing power and investment strategies, its schools, hospitals, charities and development agencies, and its rich and varied spiritualities.
Hold up a big picture of human solidarity. You wrote well of the joy of the Gospel; help us to see how striving for the sustainable and just living of the human family in true solidarity promises authentic joy and human fulfillment. One of our Jesuit brothers at the Seattle conference spoke of the challenge of our future together in Teilhardian terms as the need to draw the 9 billion people that will inhabit Earth before this century is over into a new and higher level self-organization as a single human family.
[By the way, that reminds me, wouldn’t it be a great time to start the rehabilitation of Teilhard de Chardin as a great Jesuit saint for these times?! Just a suggestion.]
That kind of global consensus-building is no easy challenge as we see so many warring factions in so many places. We need your leadership drawing us together in prayer and love — the way you tried to do with Israelis and Palestinians. Maybe you could invite as many leaders of faith traditions as possible from all around the world to join you in common prayer and outspoken leadership on all these issues.
I know you’re very busy these days, so I’ll stop here. I want to assure you we are waiting eagerly for your letter on the ecology. If you want any help with it, be sure to let me know. I’ll be glad to review chapters or drafts for you, make suggestions, even write a bit. And I have friends who would be glad to help. I’ll send you my email address – and by the way, I have a cell phone. I’ll send you my number if you’ll send me yours!
Be assured of our love and grateful support.
In gratitude for the awesomeness of the cosmic creation and the power of the Holy Spirit manifest in your election,
James E. Hug, S.J.