Pope Francis recently spoke on the rights of the poor and the need for environmental protection, saying he’s not preaching communism but the Gospel. Francis’ remarks to the World Meeting of Popular Movements, delivered in his native Spanish, ran for more than six pages, single-spaced. It was one of the longest speeches of his pontificate and a clear sign that the issues are particularly close to his heart.
Francis said the poor need land, a roof over their head and work, and said he knew well that “If I talk about this, some will think that the pope is communist.” He could have quoted Hélder Câmara who is often remembered for the aphorism “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist”
“They don’t understand that love for the poor is at the center of the Gospel,” he said. “Demanding this isn’t unusual, it’s the social doctrine of the church.” He promised that the concerns of the poor would be highlighted in his upcoming encyclical on ecology and the environment.
This doesn’t come as a surprise. When Pope Francis met with an EJOLT representative last year and held up two T-shirts, one against large scale gold mining and one against fracking, he knew what he was doing. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was also particularly close to the cartoneros, who sift through garbage looking for recyclable goods. As pope he has maintained his support for their plight and in general one might say he’s now the world’s most influential advocate of the environmentalism of the poor described by EJOLT coordinator Joan-Martinez Alier in his 2002 book with the same title.
In these dark times, where the poor are increasingly presented with the (environmental) bill from consumption needs by the rich, even non-Catholics and non-believers should welcome such gestures from a man that has a degree of moral authority over 1 billion people. As Joseph Gainza, a community organizer in a US based anti-poverty agency commented on his speech: “Pope Francis is the only world leader who seems to understand the implications of climate change. We cannot have infinite growth in production and consumption on a finite planet. Pope Francis understands that the issues of environmental degradation and economic and social justice are intertwined.”