In Pope Francis’ brief homily for the inaugural Mass of his papal ministry, he emphasized something that should be familiar to American Catholics who have seen a certain motto sometimes displayed on police cars: to serve and protect. Pope Francis highlighted how he views his calling as well as the vocation of all of us, Christian or not, as: “respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!” It looks like Pope Francis will be, like Pope Benedict XVI, a green pope. Perhaps Pope Francis will be even greener, given his namesake from Assisi, and with the presence of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, “the Green Patriarch,” also notably present at this inaugural Mass. Not only that, but Pope Francis may even be, as Charlie Camosy has noted, magenta, for he connects serving and protecting creation (“each of God’s creatures”) with serving and protecting every person, “especially the poorest.” In short, what we have here is a consistent ethic of service and protection of all life, again like Benedict XVI articulated, for example, in Caritas in veritate or his 2010 World Day of Peace Message. With this homily, though, Pope Francis clearly makes this point in an accessible and persuasive way that will hopefully help this ethic to gain even more traction.
For Catholics in the U.S. who tend to let partisan red or blue color how they read and interpret Catholic ethical teaching, Pope Francis is offering another pair of eyeglasses, with a frame and lenses that are both greener and more magenta. Some scholars note that a good translation from the Hebrew wording “to till and to keep” the garden in Genesis 2:15 is “to serve and to protect” it. Likewise, when Cain murdered his brother Abel and said to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9), the answer is yes. Our vocation is to serve and protect all of God’s creatures, both non-human and human. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that the moral value of both is equal, but both indeed have value, and we are called to serve and protect both. Not only our brothers and sisters in the human family, but also, as St Francis of Assisi referred to God’s creatures in kinship language, brother air and sister water.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with our new pope, but as Saint Paul said of Abraham in the second reading for today’s Mass, I find that I too am “hoping against hope!”