Pope Francis called on Catholics to think of protecting the environment as a duty on par with feeding the hungry and helping the sick.
“Global warming continues,” the pope said, reports The Guardian. “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.
The pope added: “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.”
To underscore his seriousness about environmental protection, Pope Francis said it should be added to the seven spiritual works of mercy that the Catholic faithful are asked to perform.
"We must not be indifferent or resigned to the loss of biodiversity and the destruction of ecosystems, often caused by our irresponsible and selfish behavior," he said. "Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence ... We have no such right."
Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, president of the Vatican’s council for peace and justice, also pleaded for Christians to make it their duty to protect the environment because of its link to humanity.
“The first step is to humbly acknowledge the harm we are doing to the Earth through pollution, the scandalous destruction of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity, and the specter of climate change,” Turkson said. “And to realize that when we hurt the Earth, we also hurt the poor.”
This isn't the first time Pope Francis has made a call to protect the environment. In September, 2015, he gave a speech to the United Nations, telling members to respect the environment over a “thirst for power.”
“Any harm done to the environment, therefore is harm done to humanity,” Francis said, according to PBS. “The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species.”