Lesley G. King, MVB, Diplomate ACVECC & ACVIM (Small Animal Internal Medicine) University of Pennsylvania
“We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is ‘contrary to human dignity.’”
What kind of event could bring Aretha, the Queen of Soul, and Francis, the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church, together? As I’m writing this, we are in the midst of “Pope Weekend” in Philadelphia. Pope Francis is here in the United States, and the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia is his last stop before heading home to Rome.
Of the People
The amount of planning that has gone into this event is incredible, with almost a million people expected on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the celebration of Mass on Sunday evening. The security surrounding the event is apparently the largest operation ever recorded in U.S. history. If you live in the greater Philadelphia area, you can’t help but be affected by the occasion, as the city and most of our highways are virtually shut down to routine traffic.
I confess that I knew little about Pope Francis before this event. However, the media here has been saturated with every detail for weeks, and it’s been impossible to avoid learning about the man and his beliefs. Despite the frustration inherent in the disruption to our city, I find myself filled with respect for the Pontiff. They call him a “Pope of the People,” and it seems true that he is a citizen of this world for our times.
Guardian of Animals
As veterinarians, we should be happy that this Pontiff has made some important statements about animals, climate change, and the environment. Pope Francis chose to be named after St. Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Animals and Ecology, describing him as a “man of poverty….of peace, a man who loves and protects creation.”
In a recently released encyclical called Laudato Si (Praise Be to You), Pope Francis stated, “Our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings. We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is ‘contrary to human dignity.’”
Man of Action
In that same document, Pope Francis discusses several important ecologic themes, including pollution and climate change, the issue of water availability, and loss of biodiversity, among other important issues. He highlighted this in his Congressional address last week, when he called for “a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps’ and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.”
Pope Francis said, “I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States–and this Congress–have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies…an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and, at the same time, protecting nature.”
Pope Francis sure did kiss a lot of babies while he was here, and he showed us glimpses of a sense of humor and wonder at this world that we share. It is certainly true that Pope Francis captured the hearts of many Philadelphians! I wonder how much of the incredible reaction to this man relates to his position as the leader of the Catholic Church, and how much is recognition and respect for the humanity of a very special individual.
—Lesley King, Editor in Chief