I strongly suspect Sister Evelyn Mattern would have liked Pope Francis. She’d have appreciated his focus on compassion and justice and his unwillingness to be distracted from those issues that defined Jesus’ ministry. She’d have approved of his outreach to the masses of people who suffer in horrible poverty but remain among the most faithful. And I imagine that she would be profoundly grateful for his recently released encyclical which makes it clear that humans must accept their share of the responsibility for climate change.
Evelyn, who died in 2003, is about as close as we get to a patron saint of the Council. A Catholic nun, English professor, scholar of Shakespeare, and poet, she served twice on the Council’s staff, working primarily on farmworker issues, peace, gender equality, and abolition of the death penalty. And, years before there was much of a faith voice on climate change, she led the Council’s work in that area back when it was called the Climate Connection.
That program is now called North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light and its director, Susannah Tuttle, is deeply engaged in helping ensure that the Pope’s words resonate and have lasting impact.
Evelyn was one of the most quietly powerful (and powerfully quiet!) people I ever knew. Her conviction, to her core, was in the inherent value of every human being, and she also believed that we were called to care for this planet we were gifted to share. She wrote beautifully about nature and about human interaction with it.
So I believe that Evelyn would be thrilled that Pope Francis has stepped beyond any of his predecessors on climate change. And then she would immediately, with patient insistence, begin awaiting his next big step.
God who is never late
God who is never early
comes like sun through cloud
flees like the moon at dawn
always and only a friend
–Evelyn Mattern, Excerpted from “Why Not Become Fire?”