Pope Francis’s attention to creation is not a new focus for the papacy. Especially since 1891, when Pope Leo XIII began the modern tradition of Catholic Social Teaching, many popes have reiterated that care for creation is a moral responsibility and a core commitment of the Christian faith.
“Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change … ? Humanity needs a profound cultural renewal; it needs to rediscover those values which can serve as the solid basis for building a brighter future for all. Our present crises – be they economic, food-related, environmental or social – are ultimately also moral crises, and all of them are interrelated. They require us to rethink the path which we are traveling together.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation - 2010 World Day of Peace Message, nos. 4, 5.
“The gradual depletion of the ozone layer and the related 'greenhouse effect' has now reached crisis proportions as a consequence of industrial growth, massive urban concentrations and vastly increased energy needs … When the ecological crisis is set within the broader context of the search for peace within society, we can understand better the importance of giving attention to what the earth and its atmosphere are telling us: namely, that there is an order in the universe which must be respected, and that the human person, endowed with the capability of choosing freely, has a grave responsibility to preserve this order for the well-being of future generations. I wish to repeat that the ecological crisis is a moral issue.” Saint John Paul II, Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All Creation - 1990 World Day of Peace Message, nos. 6, 9.
“Man alone among the animal creation is endowed with reason – it must be within his right to possess things not merely for temporary and momentary use, as other living things do, but to have and hold them in stable and permanent possession; he must have not only things that perish in the use, but those also which, though they have been reduced into use, continue for further use in after time.” Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Rerum Novarum, 6