In the fall of 2016, I sent Pope Francis a copy of The Gospel of Simon in Spanish (El Evangelio de Simón), signed by me and the translator, Jose Carreno Medina. A couple months after receiving the book, Pope Francis started saying stuff publicly that seemed to be right out of the book, especially things about inclusion and religious tolerance. But that wasn’t out of the ordinary for this Pope, so I didn’t think much of it at first. But then he published his “Encyclical on the Environment,” in which he commends the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics to become stewards of the earth, right out of the book. As far as I know, no previous Pope had taken such a stance regarding the environment. After all, prevailing Christian dogma for two millennia is that if God made the world for humanity, then humanity can exploit it of all its resources because it’s ours for the taking. But the earth’s resources are finite. Our planet is a fragile, closed system. Pope Francis has also acknowledged Climate Change, recognizing the need for us to take action to protect this great gift from God. Even skeptics should agree that we can’t keep polluting the air, land, and seas as we have done in the past, whether or not such pollution affects the climate. What sustainable future is there in such practices? We are poisoning the planet and every living thing that depends on its ecosystems, including ourselves.
In The Gospel of Simon, Jesus himself is a kind of proto-environmentalist. At one point he says to Simon of Cyrene, “That is why I said I would not pray for the World. I meant the world in which people are assailed from every direction by the obsession to have more goods than their fellows, the world of buying and selling and profiting by any means, the petty and decayed world in which a person’s value is measured by accumulated wealth. The world that pits us against one another, that exploits and enslaves some for the profit of others, and encourages the hoarding of resources by the few so that the many will not have enough. Such arrogance equates progress with profit and profit with righteousness, even though it destroys the world God created. People say they love God, yet they destroy everything they see as if they think God will make another world. It took God more than a thousand times a thousand thousand years to make this one. Was not one miracle sufficient?”
After publishing his “Encyclical on the Environment,” I wondered if my book had influenced the Pope. Perhaps it was just wishful thinking on my part. But then, in March of 2016, I received a letter from the Pope thanking me for the gift, which he said had affected him deeply. For years, I prayed that my book would change the hearts and minds of millions, thereby making the world a better place. In the end, maybe it was only one person that I needed to reach, someone with an audience of over a billion. I’m deeply humbled to think that it’s even possible.