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Pope Francis leads the weekly audience at the Vatican on August 31, 2016. Photo courtesty of REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Pope Francis says care of environment a new ‘work of mercy’

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis has called for urgent action to stop climate change, saying care of the environment should be added to the traditional works of mercy such as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless.

In a message released Thursday (Sept. 1) to mark the Catholic Church’s World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, which Francis instituted last September, the pontiff noted that the worst impact of global warming was being felt by those least responsible for it — refugees and the poor.

The latest message renews the powerful themes Francis launched in his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’.” The pope referred several times to humanity’s destruction of the environment as a “sin” and he stressed the need for “mercy towards our common home.”

In an innovation that surprised many church-watchers and upset some traditionalists, Francis said that prayer and action to protect the environment should be added to the venerable seven corporal works of mercy and the seven spiritual works of mercy drawn from the Gospels and Christian tradition.

“We usually think of the works of mercy individually and in relation to a specific initiative: hospitals for the sick, soup kitchens for the hungry, shelters for the homeless, schools for those to be educated, the confessional and spiritual direction for those needing counsel and forgiveness,” Francis wrote.

“But if we look at the works of mercy as a whole, we see that the object of mercy is human life itself and everything it embraces.”

The pope also cited the latest research to bolster his religious exhortation, noting that global warming has continued. He wrote that “2015 was the warmest year on record, and 2016 will likely be warmer still. This is leading to ever more severe droughts, floods, fires and extreme weather events.

“Climate change is also contributing to the heart-rending refugee crisis. The world’s poor, though least responsible for climate change, are most vulnerable and already suffering its impact.”

The pope said “we have sinned” and, referring to his encyclical from last year, he said mankind has turned God’s creation into a “polluted wasteland” full of “debris, desolation and filth.”

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