The Catholic Church got a new pope on Wednesday — Pope Francis, who has taken his new name from the patron saint of animals and the environment. But will the man formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina live up to the ideals of his 13th-century Italian namesake?
There is precedent for papal advocacy against a warming world. Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis' predecessor, made climate change an important part of his preaching. In 2011, he called for international leaders to take a leadership role on limiting greenhouse gas emissions. "I hope that all members of the international community can agree on a responsible, credible and supportive response to this worrisome and complex phenomenon, keeping in mind the needs of the poorest populations and of future generations," Benedict said in advance of a United Nations climate talk, according to a report from the Catholic News Service. He also addressed climate-related issues such as food insecurity and water scarcity, issues that could most affect the poorest people in the world.
Pope John Paul II presented a similar message back in 1990, saying "the ecological crisis is a moral issue" especially in the developing world.
In an essay for Think Progress, Matt Kasper with the Center for American Progress and Jack Jenkins with the Center for American Progress Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative wrote that the previous two popes have done a lot to raise awareness about climate issues but there is still more to be done. "The next pope should not only continue to voice concern about this critical issue but also begin working with world leaders to bring about lasting solutions to stabilize the earth's dangerously precarious climate," they wrote.
Chris Bain, director of Catholic development agency Cafod, told The Guardian that he hopes Pope Francis' Latin American origins will inspire him to lead on climate change and related issues. "To have a pope from Argentina, from Latin America, is a momentous decision. It demonstrates we are a universal church, one that is understanding of the fact that most of the church lives outside Europe and North America. I hope he will put global poverty, climate change and environmental degradation higher up the church agenda," Bain said.
Pope Francis hasn't been in his new position long enough to share his stance — although he is known to oppose same-sex marriage and abortion — but we do know that so far, he has lived a life with a relatively small environmental impact. In Argentina he took the bus every day, lived in an apartment rather than the traditional archbishop's palace, and cooked his own meals, according to a report from CNN.
To learn more about Pope Francis, watch this video posted by ABC News, a biography of his life in Argentina: