Labeled “the most progressive Pope ever”, Pope Francis frequently addresses equality, environment and social justice issues. The powerful messages contained in his Laudato Si’ encyclical on the environment stressed the need to take action against manmade climate change, and to overcome the disparities that capitalism is breeding.

Early October, just as a report found that the potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas and coal in the world’s currently operating fields and mines would increase our planet’s temperature beyond 2°C by the end of this century, seven Catholic announced that they would divest from fossil fuels, taking action in response to the call that Pope Francis made in his encyclical.

Given the number of Catholic institutions taking part in it, this was considered the largest joint divestment announcement involving faith-based organizations.

Besides moving their financial assets away from the dirty fossil fuel industry, faith-based organizations are setting their sights on climate solutions. A recent survey has estimated that up to 3,500 churches from several denominations had switched or planned to move to green energy.

One of the highlights in the recent announcement was that the Diocese of the Holy Spirit of Umuarama, in the Brazilian state of Paraná, became the first Latin American institution and the first diocese ever to divest from fossil fuels. A part of a broad coalition fighting fracking in Latin America, Bishop Dom Mamede is also pledging to  make Umuarama the first “low carbon diocese in the world”.

The call to divest from fossil fuel is resonating with Catholic congregations committed to alleviating poverty, being stewards of creation and defending human rights and the safety of the communities they serve.  The Jesuits in English Canada; the Federation of Christian Organisations for the International Voluntary Service (FOCSIV) in Italy; the Presentation Society of Australia and Papua New Guinea; SSM Health in the United States; the Missionary Society of St. Columban, based in Hong Kong and with a global presence in 14 countries; and the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco – Daughters of Mary Help of Christians in Milan and Naples (Italy), were the other organizations taking part in the joint announcement.

On September first, marking the beginning of the of the month-long Season of Creation, Cardinal Peter Turkson, the man largely responsible for drafting the Laudato Si’ encyclical, explicitly stated that “social pressure—including from boycotting certain products—can force businesses to consider their environmental footprint and patterns of production. The same logic animates the fossil fuel divestment movement.”

The Season of Creation called upon 2.2 billion Christians worldwide to pray and take action to care for the Earth. Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican communities held special services and different activities to observe this celebration.

Far from affecting the massive capital that continues to support the fossil fuel industry, these divestment commitments take a toll on its legitimacy and stir the conversation about how much longer can an irresponsible industry that is quickly pushing the world towards dangerous impacts from global warming, maintain its stranglehold over global economies.

As more and more congregations, dioceses and other organizations commit to divest from fossil fuels, they are taking action to create the society Pope Francis is calling for, one that cares for all forms of life on this Earth. With each Catholic community that divests, we also add to the pressure and moral call for the Vatican itself to divest.

The next joint divestment announcement is likely to take place on March 2017. Meanwhile, you too can take action, driving the conversation about divestment at your local church, school, or diocese. Build on the current momentum, and check out the Divest-Reinvest toolkit for Catholic communities.


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