LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Catholic institutions are beginning to see their investments as a reflection of their values, according to a leading Catholic environmental group.

This week, 42 faith institutions from 14 countries announced they are divesting from fossil fuels, the largest ever such joint announcement from religious organizations.

The announcement coincided with the fifth anniversary of the publication of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’s landmark ecological encyclical.

Laudato Si’ captured millennia of teaching in a way that was relevant to today’s environmental crisis, and the way it has been embraced by millions of people around the world is truly the work of the Holy Spirit,” said Reba Elliott from the Global Catholic Climate Movement.

She told Crux the current COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the problems facing the planet due to climate change and other issues facing the environment.

“The coronavirus crisis is showing us again that everything is connected. From the system of employment that puts the poorest in the cross hairs of the pandemic to the massive investments that fossil fuel executives are getting governments to hand out, injustice is alive and well,” Elliot said.

She said it is only natural for faith groups to take the environment seriously, and take concrete steps to fight climate change, including by divesting in fossil fuel companies.

“Catholic institutions are putting their investments where their values are: In loving kindness for all. A just recovery from this pandemic must include protecting the least of us from the higher risk of respiratory disease and hunger that climate change brings,” she explained.

The divestment campaign has been led by Operation Noah, a UK-based Christian NGO launched in 2004 to raise awareness of climate change and provide theological and practical resources to equip people of faith to tackle the issue.

Earlier this month, Operation Noah released a report claiming none of the major oil companies are compliant with the 2015 Paris agreement targets.

The agreement – which was made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – sought to bring down carbon emission enough to keep the planet’s warming from increasing to 1.5° Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

James Buchanan, the Bright Now Campaign Manager at Operation Noah, said at this “time of climate emergency,” it is “unethical to invest in fossil fuel companies.”

“As Pope Francis has highlighted, these companies are continuing to invest huge sums in the exploration and extraction of new fossil fuel reserves, when the vast majority of known fossil fuels must remain in the ground if we are to have any chance of meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. By divesting from fossil fuels and investing in clean alternatives, religious institutions can take prophetic action and witness to the brighter future they wish to see,” he told Crux.

Tomás Insua, Global Catholic Climate Movement’s executive director, said that every dollar invested in fossil fuel companies “is a vote for suffering.”

He said the faith institutions divesting from these companies “are taking prophetic action to light the way towards a more just and sustainable future because now more than ever, we need to protect our communities and build a just recovery together.”

Although the 42 signatories come from a variety of faith traditions, just half are Catholic institutions. There are now more than 170 Catholic institutions around the world that have made commitments to divest from fossil fuel companies.

“Climate change is the most pressing challenge the world faces as climate disasters wreak more and more destruction, hitting poorer countries the hardest – despite them having done the least to cause them. The decision to divest is principally a response to the clear moral imperative of acting to safeguard our planet for future generations at a time when scientific evidence is mounting that we are facing a grave climate emergency,” said Father Damian Howard, the Provincial Superior of the British Jesuits.

Sister Bridgetta Rooney, trustee of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, said the climate crisis “calls each of us to conversion of heart and change in behavior.”

“We felt compelled to divest of fossil fuels to reflect our values. We are also committed to using our resources to make positive investments that will help the transition to a zero-carbon future,” she added.

Buchanan said that as the world faces the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, it has a unique opportunity to respond to the economic crisis and the climate crisis at the same time.

“The decisions we make now will shape our ability to safeguard a livable planet and affect the future of humanity for thousands of years,” he told Crux.

“We hope that our Churches and global governments will prioritize a just recovery from COVID-19 that puts people and the planet at its heart, by ending support for fossil fuels and investing in a clean energy future where all life can flourish.”

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome