He is the first pope to take the name of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of all animals, who said, “Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission—to be of service to them wherever they require it.” And he is also the first religious leader to be picked as PETA Asia’s Person of the Year, a title previously held by actor Maggie Q, model Isabel Roces-Trebol, and Taiwanese singer Show Luo.
Pope Francis, who visited the Philippines earlier this year, was chosen for the award because he has asked all citizens of the world, including its 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, to reject human domination over God’s creation, treat animals with kindness, and respect the environment. PETA views this as a call to turn toward a simple, plant-based diet, given the now well-established role of animal agriculture in climate change.
In his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’, His Holiness discusses the importance of treating animals with kindness, writing, “Every act of cruelty towards any creature is ‘contrary to human dignity,'” and “We are not God. … [W]e must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”
Pope Francis is also known for his focus on environmental stewardship. According to the United Nations, a global shift toward vegan eating is necessary in order to slow the most dangerous effects of climate change, including the extinction of wildlife.
If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously.
Amen to that.