In the letter, in a section entitled "The sanctification of the world and the protection of creation", Pope Benedict XVI noted that even the liturgy reminds the faithful of the importance of God's creation when "the priest raises to God a prayer of blessing and petition over the bread and wine, 'fruit of the earth,' 'fruit of the vine' and 'work of human hands,'" he wrote.
"With these words, the rite not only includes in our offering to God all human efforts and activity, but also leads us to see the world as God's creation, which brings forth everything we need for our sustenance. The world is not something indifferent, raw material to be utilized simply as we see fit. Rather, it is part of God's good plan, in which all of us are called to be sons and daughters in the one Son of God, Jesus Christ," he added.
His writings on the topic were so prolific and profound that he is quoted numerous times in Pope Francis' environmental encyclical, "Laudato Si".
Like Benedict and his other papal predecessors, Pope Francis noted that an ecology of the environment was directly related to a proper human ecology.
"There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself. There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology. When the human person is considered as simply one being among others, the product of chance or physical determinism, then 'our overall sense of responsibility wanes,'" Pope Francis wrote in "Laudato Si", quoting Benedict XVI.
Care for creation, or for "our common home", as Francis often calls it, will most likely continue to be one of the primary concerns of his pontificate. Besides his encyclical, Pope Francis frequently speaks about climate change and the environment in various audiences, including when he became the first pope to address the United States Congress last fall.
But the important intellectual and practical groundwork laid by his predecessors, and particularly by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, cannot be overlooked.
This article was originally published Oct. 11, 2016.