Category Archives: Climate Change

Unnecessary and Harmful: The Security Bars and Processing Rule

Unnecessary and Harmful: The Security Bars and Processing Rule

Ronnate Asirwatham
February 17, 2022

While the preposterous Title 42 expulsion policy and ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy continue at the border, we are very concerned that the Biden Administration would install yet another Trump Era policy – Security Bars and Processing Rule.

In December 2020, one of the Trump Administration’s last acts on immigration was to propose the Security Bars and Processing Rule to go into effect in 2021. This rule would label asylum seekers a “danger to the national security of the United States” merely because they transited through or come from a country with a communicable disease, or exhibit symptoms “consistent with” such disease. This is ANY communicable disease ranging from the flu, to cholera, to HIV AIDS — not just COVID-19. Under the rule, covered asylum seekers would be barred from refugee protection in the United States. Which violates both U.S. law and international treaty obligations; all but ensuring their deportation to persecution or torture.

The Biden administration extended the period of comment in 2021 so that it didn’t go into effect then. However, now it is closing the comment period on February 28th, and advocates fear that the administration will then work to make the rule permanent.

A plethora of experts have already highlighted grave concerns that this rule is both fatally flawed and “xenophobia masquerading as a public health measure.” In their comments leading public health experts, including at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and School of Nursing, found no public health justification for this sweeping ban. In a comment submitted by Physicians for Human Rights, Dr. Monik Jiménez of Harvard Medical School concluded that the targeting and classification of asylum seekers as a public health threat is “not based on sound epidemiological evidence.” Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian organization with 50-years’ experience responding to disease outbreaks, characterized the rule as “counterproductive” and noted that “public health measures work best when they are inclusive. They fail when vulnerable people, like migrants and asylum seekers, are excluded.”

As the African Human Rights Coalition commented, the rule “exacerbates racist tropes and myths of immigrants as carriers of disease.” Deeply rooted in eugenics, this ideology echoes throughout this rule. Many LGBTQ groups and HIV advocacy and treatment organizations also expressed alarm that the rule, similar to the discriminatory immigration ban on individuals living with HIV that was finally lifted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2010, would discriminate “against individuals on the basis of immigration status [and the] countries in which the person has lived or traveled” and would put particularly vulnerable populations such as “women, people from the LGBTQ+ community, and people from ethnic or religious minorities at risk.”

The rule violates U.S. law and treaty obligations, including those adopted by Congress through its passage of the Refugee Act of 1980. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus stressed in its comment that the rule would have “devastating and senseless consequences” for asylum seekers and violate the clear intent of Congress, “reiterated over and over for four decades,” “that the United States provide a meaningful and fair path to protection for those fleeing persecution.” The American Bar Association and the Round Table of Former Immigration Judges, a bipartisan group of dozens of former immigration judges, similarly objected to the rule as inconsistent with domestic and international law.

We urge the administration to withdraw this unjustifiable, illegal, and harmful rule. The Departments have repeatedly paused the rule’s implementation due to ongoing litigation against a related regulation and as they are “reviewing and reconsidering” the rule and “whether to modify or rescind” it. The Departments now request comment on whether to further delay implementation. Ample time to study the legality and impact this baseless ban would have on asylum seekers has already elapsed. There is no need for additional delay. The administration can and must swiftly and completely rescind the rule.

Comment here to join our call for the Administration to rescind the Security Bars and Processing Rule.

President Biden Acts to Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement

President Biden Acts to Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement

Caraline Feairheller
January 21, 2021

On the first day of the Biden-Harris administration, President Biden signed an executive order to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. This order reversed the 2017 Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. As NPR reports, “It will take 30 days for the U.S. to officially rejoin the agreement, but meeting its targets is going to be a taller order. The U.S. is the second-largest producer of carbon emissions, behind China, and has contributed more to global climate change over time than any other country.”

We at NETWORK applaud the Biden administration’s commitment to global solidarity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and confronting the realities of climate change. As Pope Francis says in his encyclical Laudato Si’, “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” (Paragraph 25)

We know that humans are intimately connected with all life on earth. Recent reports show that the global climate crisis has and will continue to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable unless bold action is taken. We look forward to working with the Biden administration to support bold actions that deepen our care for the Earth and for one another.

Voices from the Sunrise Movement: Local Activism Against the Mariner East Pipeline

Voices from the Sunrise Movement: Local Activism Against the Mariner East Pipeline

Olivia Freiwald
February 12, 2019

I met two-year-old Brooke and four-year-old Jack in late June of 2018 on a scorching 91 degree summer day in Exton, Pennsylvania. Their bubbly laughs brought out the big sister in me and we chased each other around the yard. Then Danielle, their mom, and neighbor Ginny walked me and my housemates over to what I was really there to see. Not even 100 feet from where my game with Jack and Brooke had taken place, rows of endlessly long, beige sections of pipe lay in a fenced off strip of land, the pipes bending slightly as they sloped down the hill.

Ginny explained this was the Mariner East Pipeline Project, which included refurbishing a petroleum pipeline from the 1930s and the addition of two more pipes running across the state of Pennsylvania. Sunoco and Energy Transfer Partners poured over $4 billion into this project that was now years behind schedule due to painful, avoidable complications.

Sinkholes formed inches from people’s homes, an underground freshwater aquifer that 15 houses relied on for clean drinking water was destroyed, and the soil, water table, and acres of natural land cleared for the job were damaged beyond repair. Ginny, a geologist by training, had been involved in the growing community of pipeline opposition since the beginning.

Danielle and Ginny met at a community meeting and became active in the Mariner East Resistance. It didn’t take long for Danielle to decide to run for Pennsylvania State Representative, to protect her children, her home, and the safety and dignity of her community being threatened by natural gas companies and corrupt politicians.

I was a native of the Philly suburbs just 40 minutes from Mariner East, hearing all of this for the first time. For years I lived and went to school 40 minutes from the pipeline intended to carry ethane, butane, and propane: three extremely volatile natural gas liquids undetectable if leaked, and terrifyingly easy to ignite. Danielle made the decision to run for office look easy; no one was standing up for her community, so she decided to do it herself.

For the next six months I lived with five other 20-somethings in subsidized housing and volunteered full-time to win Danielle’s election as a state representative. We learned together through countless conversations what Danielle’s community cared about. We listened to pipeline workers and NRA members, conservatives, liberals, independents, indignant non-voters, and everyone in between. We spent hours and hours with Danielle and Ginny combing the suburbs of southeastern PA, our shared mission coursing through my veins like fire, grounding me in purpose even when doors were slammed in my face.

One of the most humbling and rewarding moments of my time in Downingtown, PA was the night my housemates and I attended the public risk assessment presentation at one of the local high schools. The pipeline companies and the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission (PUC) had refused and ignored requests for a state environmental risk assessment, so the community members fighting for their lives decided to do it themselves. We walked in to the high school auditorium and immediately saw our friends from Food and Water Watch, gave hugs to the folks who recently were released from jail after our protest on the pipeline easement, shook hands with local state candidates, caught up with Danielle and Ginny, and beckoned the mayor of Downingtown to come sit by us. Over two hundred people filled the room and we never stopped catching the eye of someone we knew, worked with, or otherwise recognized. The community effort behind stopping Mariner East finally had a face. The cause for which many in the room had put their lives on hold or even at risk felt strong, capable, and worthwhile.

On November 6, Danielle Friel Otten won the election by 3,000 votes. My team of six 20-somethings had identified 5,000 supporters while knocking on doors – the margin of victory.

We successfully got a non-career politician, woman, activist, community leader into the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to replace an incumbent who had failed to represent his constituents’ best interests. Since then, Chester County launched a criminal investigation into the construction of Mariner East, while the PUC and Sonoco quietly opened the pipelines and began the transportation of the lethal natural gas liquids.

I don’t know what the future holds for Chester County’s safety at this point. Right now it feels a lot like trying to stop a powerful tidal wave. On the other hand, in lots of ways, we won. We met and inspired students at West Chester University, registered first-time voters, and rallied with thousands of people in DC, demanding a Green New Deal. The word “politician” has become a cringe-inducing word, but the woman I helped into that position exemplifies everything the job is meant to be. We, the people, the children, and the fighters of PA-144, are not up against our elected official anymore to build a world of justice and love. Finally, I witnessed honest representation, massive grassroots victory, and a growing hope for a future where true democracy reigns.


Olivia Freiwald grew up outside of Philadelphia and is now a sophomore at Tufts University studying Climate Organizing and Sustainable Development. Olivia was a fellow with the Sunrise Movement from June-November 2018, living and working full-time in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, and continues her involvement with Sunrise while in school.

Feature photo from Waging Nonviolence.

Faces of our Spirit-Filled Network: Fr. Terry Moran

Faces of our Spirit-Filled Network: Fr. Terry Moran

Fr. Terry Moran
July 10, 2018

Tell us a little about yourself and the work you do.

I am a Catholic priest, an associate of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Peace, and currently minister as the Director of the Office of Peace, Justice, and Ecological Integrity for the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth, a congregation of women religious, mostly in New Jersey, with some sisters in other states and in Haiti and El Salvador.

How did you first learn about NETWORK and what inspired you to get involved?

I remember when NETWORK was founded and the excitement it generated in sisters who were friends of mine.  NETWORK incarnated what we were talking about in theology after Vatican II – that the gospel compelled us to become involved in the political process, to build on our history of direct service by engaging in structural change.

What issue area are you most passionate about?

Climate change and learning how to foster a healthier human/Earth relationship is my greatest passion. Any other social issue is contingent on us facing the climate crisis. There can be no just human society on a dying planet.

How are you engaging your community on important social justice issues?

In as many ways as possible: I send out regular action alerts on issues that are important to us; a monthly e-newsletter called JustLove; two ecospirituality groups that meet monthly; regular workshops and talks; a Facebook page; recently I distributed a refrigerator magnet with a graphic of our Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC) priority issues so that the sisters think about them as they get their morning orange juice.

How has your advocacy for social justice shaped your view of the world?

I come from a family in which political engagement was an important value so there’s a restlessness in my genes for a world that is more just, peaceful, and verdant.

How does your faith inspire you to work for justice?

My religious formation was in the early post-Vatican II days when “a faith that does justice” was shaking our sleepy 1950’s Catholicism. I’m very happy that Pope Francis is putting the social agenda of the gospel front and center again. I think his encyclical Laudato Si’ is the most compelling program available today for where the world needs to go.

Who is your role model?

Two people that are daily inspirations for me: Margaret Anna Cusack, the founder of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Peace –the community of which I’m an associate. She was a 19th century Irish social justice advocate and prolific writer who drove bishops crazy.  Her book Women’s Work in Modern Society (1875) was among the first to explore the role of women in economic life. I love her quote, “People make a lot of the sufferings of the Desert Fathers but they were nothing compared to the sufferings of the mothers of the 19th century.”

Another is Daniel Berrigan, SJ, who has been a mentor for me since I first met him on his release from prison in my hometown, Danbury, CT in 1972. His contemplative searching of the scriptures that led to a life of resistance to war has been a life-long model for me.

Right now, I am most inspired by my seven friends of the Kings Bay Plowshares action who entered the largest Trident submarine base in the world on April 4, 2018 and enacted the prophecy of Isaiah 2 by hammering and pouring blood on these instruments of mass destruction.  I have their photo on my desk and often turn to it in the course of the day in gratitude and prayer. Their willingness to put their own lives and plans on hold and to risk prison for the sake of the gospel of non-violent resistance is tremendously inspiring to me.

Is there a quote that motivates or nourishes you that you would like to share?

“The world is violent and mercurial–it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love–love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”– Tennessee Williams

What social movement has inspired you?

Growing up in the 60’s, I’ve been deeply formed by my involvement in the peace movement and the women’s movement. I remember participating in the first Earth Day in 1970.  Most recently I’m very inspired by Black Lives Matter, the leadership taken by young people against gun violence, and the work of an organization of Dreamers called Cosecha who are risking their own safety for dignity for all the undocumented.

What was your biggest accomplishment as an activist in the past year?

That I haven’t lost my mind and have been able to keep going in the vile political climate in which we live.

What are you looking forward to working on in the coming months?

Starting an organic garden on our motherhouse property. There is something healing about getting your hands in the dirt. Also working with a local organization to welcome a third refugee family.

Caring for Our Gift

Caring for Our Gift

Hannah Mullally
April 20, 2018

“We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” -Pope Francis, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.

To me, these words from Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home encompass the importance of incorporating environmental care and justice into faith. We are of the earth; we are made from the earth; we depend on the earth. In forgetting this, we lose sight of our duty and responsibility to care for the gift of earth which sustains us.

The first Earth Day in the United States on April 22, 1970 brought the idea of care of creation into the mainstream. When we celebrate Earth Day this year, we continue the fight to be responsible stewards of our home while also recognizing the additional issues into which environmental justice reaches. We cannot discuss responsible environmental care without acknowledging how environmental degradation first and foremost impacts those with the least privilege. This degradation is especially unjust because those contributing the most to it are the privileged of the world. Recognizing the connection between environmental justice and human justice brings new meaning to Jesus’s words, “Whatever you do to the least of my people, you do to me.” If we contribute to environmental degradation and allow disrespect toward our environment, we are hurting the most vulnerable among us and therefore the very Being who gifted us this Earth.

Viewing care of creation through the lens of Catholic Social Justice makes it clear that this is an issue of justice we should be fully invested in. This is not an issue of political persuasion, but a component of human and environmental dignity that Catholics and non-Catholics alike should fight for. Unfortunately, today there are powerful individuals who claim to speak from a place of Christian morality while simultaneously expressing disdain toward the idea of environmental justice. The profession of respect for life and humanity these influencers make falls woefully short when it does not include clean water, air, and soil for every person on this earth. As fellow Christians, we must remind these individuals, and ourselves, that care of creation is a central component of our belief system.

Although working towards environmental justice can feel like a daunting challenge, for me it is a straightforward effort at its core. Care for creation simply means respect for our earth and by extension ourselves. We are a part of the earth, “we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies made of her elements,” and we are stewards of humanity and the Earth. Let us become the stewards of our gift we are meant to be. Let us make our Creator, our Giver, proud.

Hannah Mullally is currently pursuing her Master’s of Science in Wildlife and Fisheries at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She earned her Bachelor of Environmental Science from Creighton University in 2016. Hannah aspires to work for a conservation non-profit organization where she can communicate the importance of environmental stewardship to the public and work to conserve the beautiful natural places of our planet. She also hopes to integrate environmental justice into her conservation work and advocate for the right of all people to live in a healthy world. When she is not working on research or advocacy, Hannah takes advantage of living near the Great Smoky Mountains by hiking, backpacking, and biking.

Prioritizing Communities Recovering from Disasters

Prioritizing Communities Recovering from Disasters

Kaitlin Brown

October 24, 2017

In the past few months, natural disasters have ripped away the homes of many of our sisters and brothers in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and California. Folks were left with limited time, just minutes in California, to pack up and flee to safety and are now returning to destroyed homes with few options. On conference calls with our housing partners working on the ground, I hear week after week about families in Puerto Rico going without electricity and clean water, and elderly folks in nursing homes in hurricane affected areas going without air conditioning. In Texas, people lined up overnight for D-SNAP (food stamps for those in disaster areas) only to be turned away for lack of identification. In Florida, low-income families and individuals were unable to afford the high cost of resort fees that came in addition to their FEMA hotel vouchers.

While these crises have unfolded, Congress moved quickly to pass the first of two supplemental disaster spending bills, and for this we are grateful. Right after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in September, Congress passed a $15 billion aid package. This week, the House passed a $36.5 billion bill that is waiting to be voted on in the Senate. While this is a great start, it really is simply putting a Band-Aid on a much bigger problem. Experts expect more money will be needed down the road: Puerto Rico hasn’t been able to have damage assessments done to know how much money is needed, Texas alone has asked for $18 billion for recovery, and with wildfires still raging in California, the extent of the damage is not known.

So with this going on, and millions of people displaced, what has Congress decided to prioritize between now and the end of the year? Cutting taxes for the wealthiest corporations and individuals– a bill that would increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion– while also cutting crucial services for those most vulnerable. The budget plan voted on by Congress would be especially damaging for those affected by recent natural disasters, as it is focused on cutting crucial services for those most vulnerable, including SNAP and housing benefits, such as Section 8 vouchers. The tax bill that will quickly follow the budget, will add to our deficit by cutting taxes for the richest among us and corporations, while failing to supply any additional money to disaster relief and recovery.

As a person of faith, I think this is wrong. The need to care for the most vulnerable among us must take priority, and especially should not be neglected at the expense of tax cuts for the wealthiest. And while Congress has been bickering over the tax “reform” plan, many people in Puerto Rico are still without power and clean water, people in Texas and Florida are without stable, long-term shelter, and people in California are without entire cities. Our elected officials must do better to truly care for the most vulnerable among us.

Caring For All of God’s Creation

Caring For All of God’s Creation

By Shantha Ready Alonso
From NETWORK’s Catholic Social Justice Reflection Guide

I find it profound to worship a God who revels in the knowledge that the diversity of creation is very good. Beginning in the book of Genesis, we learn of a Creator who finds joy in difference – distinguishing land from water, forming a variety of plants and creatures, and calling forth humans of different genders, many colors and various creeds.

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis introduces to us the concept of integral ecology, which expands our concept of what is included when we think of “God’s creation.” Creation not only encompasses the natural world, but also everything we co-create with God: built environments, economies, political systems, currencies, cuisines, languages, and music. From an integral ecology perspective, care for God’s creation means caring for the whole inhabited earth, and the cosmos beyond.

As people living in the United States, one way to delve into caring for creation is through our vast system of public lands: national parks, forests, monuments, refuges, sanctuaries and wilderness areas. Together, we the people collectively share responsibility for stewardship of these public lands. Through this system, together we can conserve our spiritual, natural, historical, and cultural heritage.

The heritage preserved in our public lands is something we can all treasure. But, our nation’s racist history of forced removal of people from land, confinement to reservations, segregation, discrimination, and unfair or forced labor practices has left a painful legacy – even in our public lands system. Likewise, our nation’s history of low regard for threatened and endangered species needs to be overcome by greater care. We have work to do to ensure our public lands belong to all of God’s creation.

Recently, the values of cultural and bio-diversity have become more prominent in our public lands and waters system. In the past five years, we have seen more and more monument designations that honor social justice leaders of courage, including the Cesar Chavez National Monument in California, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland, and the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington DC. For the first time in our history, the public lands system has a national monument with a focus on Native American heritage: Bears Ears National Monument. This 1.35 acres of land in Utah is sacred to multiple tribes, and through this monument, we can all benefit from the wisdom of the tribes that claim Bears Ears as their ancestral land.

Our public lands and waters tell our stories and shape our collective memory. They are places where we learn, play, and pray. We all depend on the integrity of God’s creation, which brings us together. All of us want clean air, water, and land for ourselves and our families. May we treasure the earth and these places of beauty that reveal the wonders of our Creator. In reflecting on the importance and sacredness of the earth, may we understand that it is a lens for us to see our interconnectedness and to celebrate our diversity.

Shantha Ready Alonso is the Executive Director of Creation Justice Ministries, which represents the creation care and environmental justice policies of major Christian denominations throughout the United States. Read more about their work at

View the full Catholic Social Justice Reflection guide here.

View the Lent Calendar to take action on healthcare here.

Pope Francis’ Impact on the Catholic vote in 2016

Commentary: Pope Francis’ Impact on the Catholic vote in 2016

By Simone Campbell, SSS
May 5, 2016

When the Bernie Sanders campaign announced plans to visit the Vatican, more than one journalist asked me for comment on the oddity of a progressive candidate seeking to associate himself with an institution whose views are antithetical to much of what he espouses. This, I believe, is a fundamental misunderstanding of how the majority of Catholics in America view the role of their faith in their political and civic life. Call it the Pope Francis effect. It is real and, because Catholics are the preeminent swing voters, it will matter a great deal.

In this, the first presidential election in the era of Pope Francis, attempts to control the “Catholic vote” through issues of personal sexuality – often nothing more than a crass political calculation – will no longer work as well, if at all. Instead, those who seek to divide our nation will find themselves up against a spiritual leader who has taken the teachings of our faith that have resided for many in the dusty tomes of Catholic scholarship and philosophy and made them breathing realities in our daily lives. In doing so, he has energized Catholics to embody the center of our faith – active concern for the common good and attention to the needs of those around us.

And then he has taken this sacred work a step further. The pope has reminded our elected leaders and all of us that individuals, churches, and communities, while vital to the work of taking care of each other, cannot be expected to do it all alone. The work of ending the vast disparities of wealth and opportunity in America and around the world can only be accomplished by implementation of policies on a grand scale, a political scale – a tax policy under which everyone and every corporation pays its fair share and all employers pay their workers a living wage; policies that encourage a “family-friendly workplace,” recognizing that the economy is at the service of workers, not the other way around.

This call has not been the least bit coy or veiled. In his speech before Congress in 2015, Francis told our elected officials, “You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all of its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk.”

The pope’s words have clearly broken through to the professional political class, though whether it is through their hearts as well as their talking points, I leave to others to decide. For proof, look at House Speaker Paul Ryan’s public apology for his past rhetoric blaming the poor for their own poverty. Were Ryan to also publicly recognize, for example, that his mea culpa did not go far enough, and that the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid to those who are most vulnerable is a pro-life position, perhaps the transformation would be more believable.

Ultimately, though, Francis recognizes that politicians are essentially stand-ins for the rest of us. It is the electorate who must heed the call to become politically active. It is up to us to recognize that in the wealthiest nation the world has ever known, the fact that there is still a vast difference in life expectancy between the rich and the poor is a collective wrong that we have a moral obligation to make right.

Hence the pope’s repeated calls for Catholics to “meddle in politics,” his repeated calls to, yes, feed and house and meet basic human needs from our parishes, but also to go out into the world and call for, vote for, big change – a reformed immigration policy that recognizes and embraces the dignity of our brothers and sisters, regardless of where they happened to be born; national spending priorities that recognize the need for safe, affordable housing as greater than the excitement over a newer, faster, deadlier weapon of war.

While Catholics do not vote as a single bloc, they are nonetheless a renowned bellwether in the political world, having voted for the winner of the popular vote, with one exception, in every presidential election since Roosevelt.

This year will not be different. When the chattering class analyzes the “Catholic vote,” as it will inevitably do – both before and after the primary and general elections – it will find that in this year of mercy, our votes stretched far beyond our self-interest and to the common good, that we turned out and voted for the needs of those who are most often left out of our care. We will be called the “Pope Francis voters.”

Originally published in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Blog: Reflecting on Hurricane Katrina Ten Years Later

Reflecting on Hurricane Katrina Ten Years Later

Bethan Johnson
August 31, 2015

Ten years ago today, after Hurricane Katrina was downgraded from a Category 3 storm to a tropical depression, President Bush flew over New Orleans and saw that 85% of the city was underwater. Eight days after meteorologists began warning us of the storm, Hurricane Katrina had displaced more than one million people in the Gulf Coast region and killed scores.

While presidents, pundits and newspapers remember the tragic losses and report on the subsequent economic growth in the region, it is critical to recall that we can play a role in prevent future ecological destruction. Inspired by the words of Pope Francis in his most recent encyclical Laudato Si’, which draws upon the richness of Catholic Social Justice Tradition, NETWORK believes that Americans must do more than passively marking the storm’s anniversary and instead look for solutions in the current climate change crisis.

The pope is clear—the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the dozens of other natural disasters both in the United States and abroad are our problem because they are our doing. He writes, “Our Sister, Mother Earth…now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.” Leading environmental researchers and climatologists align with the pope’s conclusion that these and other natural disasters are rooted in our current ecological practices.

According to reports, Hurricane Katrina alone displaced more than 600,000 Gulf Coast residents for more than one month and destroyed more than one million housing units in the region, inflicting roughly $135 billion in damages. Since then, meteorologists report that hurricanes, tornado outbreaks and earthquakes across the nation have displaced or killed millions of people. Moreover, actions like that of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that significantly damaged the Gulf Coast’s marine ecosystem show that we have failed to see the seriousness of our actions in relation to climate change.

Catholic Social Tradition teaches us to see our world as a gift and endows us with the responsibility to preserve God’s creation. In the book of Genesis, God grants humankind dominion over the earth, but throughout the Bible God calls people to serve as protectors of Creation, forever conscious of their temporary power and duty to act as stewards for their children.

As the U.S. bishops recognized in Hurricane Katrina: Reaching Out, Renewal and Recovery in Faith and Solidarity, during Hurricane Katrina, “human lives [had] been destroyed and human dignity [had] been assaulted.” We at NETWORK believe that this same destruction extends to other human-caused natural disasters. Instead, we like the bishops believe that the “tradition of Catholic social teaching offers a developing and distinctive perspective on environmental issues [including] a consistent respect for life, which extends to all creation.”

We at NETWORK also agree with the pope’s observation that this call to stewardship extends beyond the preservation of earth and oceans; heeding God’s call is also an issue of care and compassion for humankind. He observes, “Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.”

Hurricane Katrina and the dozens of other environmental disasters since have had true human cost. Pope Francis calls on justice-seekers to consider inequality in their societies through the lens of environmental destruction. He writes, “Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry.” By expressing concern over pollution, water scarcity and diminishing biodiversity, we are also living out the Gospel call to live in harmony with nature and work for the good of this generation and those to come.

In the face of this call to action in the face of so many disasters like Hurricane Katrina, we see two paths to establishing a more just approach to our environment. First, as the pope advises, we look to those in Congress and in state governments to work together to find solutions to issues of pollution and water scarcity and to consider innovative methods for promoting alternative energy. We hope that our political leaders can also become leaders in environmental protection by valuing human dignity and coming generations over short-term profits and the influence of big business.

Moreover, Pope Francis calls humankind to act justly on an individual level. He notes that not all issues of environmental inequality and misuse can be solved by technological advances or legislation. Each person can play a role in protecting nature. We at NETWORK hope that people look at their environmental impact and consider what they can do on a daily basis to reduce their footprint. No action is too small; no conversation about stewardship is too short.  Each represents an expression of faith in God’s gifts to us and can help change our world in the generations to come.

As Pope Francis makes his final preparations for his visit to the United States in September, we encourage all people in the United States to seriously consider new, innovative solutions in the issues of global climate change. As Pope Francis implores, “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” We look to Congress to promote activities and policies that preserve God’s creation and promote equality, and we call upon justice-seekers to remind our national leaders of the pressing need to protect our world and to live out the Gospel teachings about global stewardships for the sake of ourselves and the coming generations. We believe that this—and not statistics on new revenue streams or real estate boom in New Orleans—serves as a strong indicator for how our nation has recovered from this deadly storm.

Blog: Beyond the Surface – Putting Care for Creation to the Test

Blog: Beyond the Surface – Putting Care for Creation to the Test

By Sarah Kenny, NETWORK Intern
July 14, 2015

Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’s revolutionary encyclical, has engendered a sustained media feeding frenzy since its release this June by successfully engaging individuals across borders, ethnicities and creeds. Over the course of 180 pages, the acclaimed leader of the Catholic Church analyzes the state of our land, water, sky and fellow creatures; confirms a destructive relationship between the actions of humans and the deteriorating condition of our planet; and proposes initiatives to address damage of the past and preserve resources for the future.

The complex connections and propositions within this document yield tremendous power to connect individuals across the world in a collective effort to protect our mutual home, yet politicians and religious leader’s commentaries have limited the news cycle from circulating many of the underlying petitions that Pope Francis calls his people to consider.

Buzzwords such as “climate change” and “papal authority” have dominated the narrative surrounding Laudato Si’, words that encapsulate present holdups over both the legitimacy of climate change in relation to human activity as well as the pope’s role as a social activist. While op-eds and editorials debate the reality facing our physical environment, there have been few mainstream pieces that have delved into the encyclical’s emphasis on humans, although the word “human” alone makes well over 100 appearances throughout the document.

My dismay that the media has not yet illuminated the consequences of a changing environment on its people was piqued earlier this week when I learned that the U.S. State Department has alleged plans to shift Malaysia’s Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act rating up from a Tier 3 to a Tier 2.

Although the connection between human trafficking and the state of our environment is frequently overlooked, Picolotti and Talliant assert in Linking Human Rights and the Environment that “victims of environmental degradation tend to belong to more vulnerable sectors of society – racial and ethnic minorities and the poor – who regularly carry a disproportionate burden of [human rights] abuse.” Pope Francis has artfully woven this very link between environmental changes and the world’s vulnerable people throughout his encyclical, a thread that stems from the basic Christian tenet of caring for those who are less fortunate.

Point 91 under Part V: Universal Communion proclaims, “Everything is connected. Concern for the environment…needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.” Such compassion for those who are vulnerable is not a fundamentally radical principle; however, the pope’s exhibited application of this Gospel truth yields the potential to create a significant impact on current global issues, such as the U.S. State Department’s projected course of action concerning Malaysia.

In conjunction with other leaders of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has uncontestably demonstrated his staunch stance against human trafficking throughout his papacy. At the 2014 annual Lenten Fraternity Campaign in Brazil, Francis not only attested that “it is not possible to remain indifferent before the knowledge that human beings are bought and sold like goods,” but he went even further to condemn any and all who by any means facilitate this form of modern slavery: “whoever uses human persons in this way and exploits them, even if indirectly, becomes an accomplice of injustice.”

In March 2014, the pope spoke at the Church and Law Enforcement in Partnership Conference in England and Wales, where he met with former sex slaves, helped facilitate a declaration of commitment to ending human trafficking between the Catholic Church and chief police officers from over 20 nations, and assisted the Catholic Church of London with the Bakhita Initiative, a four-pronged approach that aims to address consequences of human trafficking. December of that same year, Pope Francis joined spiritual luminaries from all creeds and cultures and signed the Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders Against Modern Slavery, a historic commitment that has pledged to “eradicate modern slavery across the world by 2020 and for all time”.

Pope Francis extends his commitment to eradicating modern slavery by explicitly addressing human trafficking in Laudato Si’. In Part V: Universal Communion, he asserts that “it is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted.” This succinct claim represents an unequivocal bridge between a respect for the environment and a respect for all the people who inhabit it. While the pope has petitioned certain groups to make a commitment to combat this global epidemic, as he did with law enforcement authorities during the 2014 Church and Law Enforcement in Partnership Conference by deeming them “primarily responsible for combating this tragic reality,” he unequivocally casts blame upon all of God’s people for the sin of indifference towards our environment in the pages of his encyclical. Laws and enforcement of those laws lay a framework for combatting this humanitarian crisis; yet the pope cautions that “when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided.” Although Malaysia is among our nation’s top 25 largest trading partners and their participation in the TPP may very well be economically expedient to U.S. businesses, can our culture be as corrupt as to diminish Malaysia’s ongoing human rights violations for a gamble at capital gain?

I am exhausted by news headlines saying presidential candidates plan to declare a position on climate change in response to Pope Francis. I am indifferent to further analysis on whether the pope has overstepped his boundaries by championing the issue of climate change, an issue that many call the gravest problem facing future generations. I am, however, hopeful that as time quells the sensational upset over the advent of the encyclical’s publication, leaders of all backgrounds and beliefs will open themselves up to the rich layers of wisdom, truth and good that lay not far beneath the document’s surface. I am optimistic that the words ofLaudato Si’ can serve as a profound reminder for peoples and institutions for generations to come to prioritize care for the vulnerable above personal and economic gains.