Lesson Plans

Religion and Environment: Similarities and Differences Between Pope Francis's Activism and Chinese Buddhist Traditions

Image by Justin Catanoso. Italy, 2015.

Emel Salazar Yuriuilca is the president of the Federation of Unemployed in La Oroya. She agrees with the social elements to which Pope Francis speaks regarding the environment. She is a devout Catholic. She reveres the first Latin American pope. But, she says, “The life of that plant is more important than anything the pope says. Yes, we are poor. But that’s because the plant closed. That’s when the problems of poverty started.” Image by Jason Houston. Peru, 2015.

Our new E-book "Ecological Civilization" is available on a variety of platforms. Image designed by Jin Ding.

Freddy Rojas Chacha, the elected president of the Community of Old La Oroya near the plant, says “We must respect the view of the pope. But if he says the plant should not reopen because of pollution, what solution does he offer? Where will we work? We must support our families.” Image by Jason Houston. Peru, 2015.

La Oroya is a city of about 33,000 people on the River Mantaro in central Peru. The impact of acid rain on mountains near the plant. Image by Jason Houston. Peru, 2015.

Elena Conterno, president of the National Society of Fisheries. Image by Emilia Catanoso. Peru, 2015.

Mining executive Roque Benavides. Image by Emilia Catanoso. Peru, 2015.

Introducting the Lesson:

On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis released Laudato Si, On Care for our Common Earth, the first encyclical devoted entirely to environmental protection in the 2,000 year history of the Catholic Church. It was eagerly awaited worldwide and met with both praise and criticism. In the U.S., the pope’s once-soaring approval ratings plunged.

Does this unique and influential spiritual figure have the moral authority to make progress on the most vexing issue facing global leaders and the globe itself?

Meanwhile, ancient religious and cultural traditions in China are also being invoked as a call for environmental action. How is Buddhism compatible with a more active stance on ecological preservation, and what opportunities and barriers exist in China on this issue?


Read and watch the resources listed at right and answer the corresponding questions.

Further Reading:

To understand Pope Francis better, read this article by Jim Yardley of the New York Times. Be sure to understand Francis’s relentless support for the poor and why this issue is a natural for him.

Educator Notes: 

Students will explore the potential impact of Pope Francis's call for ecological preservation and contrast trends in China that are prompting Buddhists there to be better environmental stewards.


Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.


Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience's knowledge level and concerns.

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