Brief History of Catholic Environmental Stewardship

Catholic Environmental Stewardship

The Catholic Church has a long history of social justice teaching and the need to address our impact on our natural environment around us is rooted in that tradition. With the 19th century Industrial Revolution, the Catholic Church began to formalize its social teaching regarding the impact of harsh factory conditions on people, especially children, and the economic imbalance.

It was Vatican II that brought Catholic social teaching into the modern era, examining numerous social issues and reemphasizing the dignity of all individuals. St. John Paul II built on this and directly incorporated ecological concerns in his 1988 encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialisthe first encyclical to substantively discuss ecological issues. He directly connected ecology with human dignity and environmental stewardship with personal morality. In 1990, his World Day of Peace message dealt exclusively with ecological matters.

Pope Benedict continued, and carried further, St. John Paul II’s focus on the need for environmental stewardship for not only the sake of caring for creation but for social justice reasons. Pope Benedict’s focus on caring for creation and the related social justice issued earned him the nickname “the green pope.” In addition to his talks, audiences, speeches, etc. Pope Benedict participated in the publishing of a couple books on his teachings on the environment, including The Environment and Ten Commandments for the Environment (with Woodeene Koenig-Bricker). Under Pope Benedict’s tenure, Vatican City changed its practices to become a carbon neutral nation.

Pope Francis’ encyclical on caring for creation, Laudato Si, built upon his predecessors’ work to address the serious environmental and social justice issues we currently face. Please see the tab dedicated to Laudato Si [here – need to link to tab on Laudato Si’]

Many Catholic parishes, dioceses, schools, organizations, and parishioners have been working for decades to be good environmental stewards. Many more are joining in these efforts as they become aware of the need to re-examine our assumptions, habits, and actions. We at St. Lucy’s continue to evaluate our relationship with the environment and our community and make positive changes to be better stewards of God’s creation and our parish resources. Please see the tab “What St. Lucy Parish is doing” for more information.


St. John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis

St. John Paul II 1990 World Day of Peace message

The Environment, Pope Benedict

Ten Commandments for the Environment: Pope Benedict XVI Speaks Out for Creation and Justice, Pope Benedict with Woodeene Koenig-Bricker

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