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      Praised Be!

      Today's papal encyclical, "Praised Be", may be the most important religious teaching to be released in decades.

      The question is whether its study unleashes a creative leap forward in human understanding of the environment, or a further round of sectarian religious conflicts.

      The encyclical reinvigorates the doctrine of liberation theology, which began in the late 1960's as an affirmation of the global poor and was dismantled finally by the church elite and Reagan conservatives. The current revival of the doctrine was dramatically revealed on May 23 by the Pope's beatification of the martyred archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador.

      Already a threat to the military oligarchs of Latin America, liberation theology is now expanding to a new embrace of climate justice in the face of global warming.

      The doctrine has powerful political overtones because it accepts the science of climate change and refutes the conservative assumption of climate denial.

      A powerful sentiment is rising which asserts that the road to social justice for the poor is also the way to reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, which threaten the stability of the planet.

      But the argument is ultimately less political than theological or spiritual. At its heart the document suggests that creation as a whole is sacred, not a backdrop for human-centered political economy. To damage or threaten creation is a sin, not simply an adverse environmental effect.

      The first challenge for environmentalists, social justice advocates, and people of faith may well be immersion in discussion and reflection of the new worldview being suggested by Pope Francis. Only after such deep immersion will social action follow.

      Pope Francis has tipped global consciousness towards engagement in the United Nations sponsored climate talks in Paris this December. With a global "green bloc" of nations rooted in Latin America, the papal initiative could well lead towards a negotiated reduction of both poverty and pollution in time to stave off the worst possibilities of extreme climate change.

      That historic reform will need the idealism and power of a global social movement on a level rarely seen.

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