Church

Living Out Pope Francis' Call to Care for Creation: An Interview with Emily Mentock

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August 31, 2021

World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation is a day set aside by Pope Francis in 2015 to annually pray for and call to mind the Catholic Church’s teaching on care for creation.

This day of prayer sets up the month-long Seasons of Creation, a time to not only pray and reflect on environmental justice issues, but also to alleviate those issues in our communities. The hope behind these celebrations is to help people find a way to actively participate in this call to be “custodians of creation” and work toward a better world.

To celebrate the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation (September 1) and to kick off the month-long celebration of the Season of Creation (September 1 - October 4), we interviewed Emily Mentock, a co-founder of FemCatholic, on her relationship with the document that began this celebration. Emily is passionate about environmental justice and the care of creation. Her life was profoundly altered after reading about Catholic teaching on the care for creation as a young adult. She has lived out the spirit of the Season of Creation by changing her worldview on environmental issues and how they affect the human family, as well as by making changes in her life to be a better custodian of creation.

Liz Hansen: You reverted back to your childhood Catholic Faith and care for creation was intricately linked to that decision. What prompted the change? Why are the two so tightly connected for you?

Emily Mentock: In the summer of 2015, I started practicing my faith again after several years away, and one of the first steps I took to re-engage was reading Laudato Si’ [Pope Francis’ writing on humanity’s relationship with creation] because I thought that all “good Catholics” read encyclicals when they came out! I was moved by how Pope Francis tied together so many aspects of this issue with Church teaching. I don’t think it would have been possible for me to read it and not respond with a major lifestyle change. The biggest takeaway was the importance of intentional living as part of our faith. The choices we make matter! That’s the gift of free will. 

My faith and caring for creation will always be linked for me because of how God used this issue to call me back to practicing my faith, and I consider that to be the greatest gift in my life.

LH: What was your attitude towards climate action before you came back to the Church? 

EM: I honestly wasn’t very concerned about the environment before reading Laudato Si’. I knew that we should be aware of climate change and I felt guilty that my plastic straws might kill a turtle, but it didn’t feel like it was an important matter in my life. What really stood out about Laudato Si’ was how it properly orients these issues around the people they impact and our moral obligation to care for creation. That raised the stakes for me.

LH: What have been the most significant changes you’ve made to your lifestyle in light of Pope Francis’ teaching on care of the environment? How did you decide that this was the right choice for you?

EM: The most significant lifestyle change I made was adopting a plant-based diet. I eat about 90% vegan. I knew this was the right choice for me because it was put very clearly on my heart. I had recently learned about the carbon emission levels that come from the animal agriculture industry and it seemed like a choice I could make. Usually when you feel in your heart, “Maybe I should give up ____,” it’s a good sign that you should!

I do not think that everyone needs to be vegan or that Catholics have a moral obligation to be vegan. But I do think that we all have a responsibility to consider our lifestyle choices and how we might better care for creation with our choices, including those about food.

LH: What advice would you give to others trying to discern what actions they should take for the sake of the environment?

EM: Think about the changes that would be easiest for you to make and then stick to those. Not everyone can be vegan or go plastic free or buy an electric car – but everyone can do something. It takes commitment, but it’s something we’re all called to do. You can even pray about it! Ask God to put on your heart what you can do to better care for creation.

LH: What would you say to those who assume that care for the environment is a “liberal issue” or doesn’t have a place in the Church?

EM: It’s heartbreaking to me that our religion is under such a weighty influence of politics these days. This influence keeps people from what’s good and true about our faith and, honestly, it can keep people from Jesus.

I would encourage them to read what the Catechism says about creation, to learn about the seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching, and to read what the popes have said about this issue. It’s not just Pope Francis who has spoken about the environment. Did you know that Pope Benedict XVI was known as the “Green Pope” for his position on environmental issues in the 2000s? This is about so much more than politics!

LH: Do you think people of faith have a place in today’s environmental movement? What do they bring to the movement?

EM: Absolutely! Our faith guides us so well in a just orientation of the many aspects of this issue. For example, it’s not just about caring for creation for the sake of creation itself - the even more important issue is how things like climate change will impact people who live off of the land, who are some of the most vulnerable populations in the world. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet:

“‘Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest.’ [. . .] The impact of present imbalances is also seen in the premature death of many of the poor, in conflicts sparked by the shortage of resources, and in any number of other problems which are insufficiently represented on global agendas.” (Laudato Si’ 48)

And, of course, we have the power of prayer! We can pray that all of us, and especially world leaders, will make the right decisions to better care for our common home.

LH: The UN recently released a new, pretty dire report on climate change and its potential impact on the world. As a Catholic, where do you see reason for hope?

EM: I’ll be honest: that new report was dire, and I was discouraged to see it. But we can’t give up. There are so many lives at stake that we need to do whatever we can to care for the earth and for each other. I think we all need to step up our efforts to care for creation in key ways: (1) Use your voice and rights to communicate to people in leadership – from your workplace to national politicians – and let them know how crucial it is to implement policies that care for creation; (2) Take time to think about what lifestyle changes you can make to better care for creation; and (3) Join Pope Francis and Catholics around the world in prayer for the conversion of hearts and the courage we need to take action.

I have a lot of hope that Catholics can play an impactful role. We are fortunate to be united across the world with a clear teaching on how to care for creation. For the number of people and the amount of land under the care of the Catholic Church worldwide, I think we are, collectively, in a unique position to make a difference. I pray and hope that we can find the courage to do the right thing starting in our own lives and communities, and then hopefully around the world.

Emily Mentock grew up in South Bend, Indiana, and went to the University of Notre Dame. She and her husband got married in 2017 and now live in downtown Detroit, Michigan, where she works as Associate Director of Strategy for the Archdiocese of Detroit. Emily is a co-founder of FemCatholic and Real + True.

Liz Hansen

Liz Hansen is a freelance writer, minivan driver, and mom of four in Lansing, Michigan. She majored in English and theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville (2008), and her writing has been featured in Magnificat, Columbia Magazine, FAITH Magazine, and Cruxnow.com. She will always talk about books and is either reading literature or aimlessly scrolling Twitter while parked in the pickup line at her children’s school.

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