The Ecotopia 2121 Project details the futures of 100 cities across the globe as though they've somehow overcome all environmental challenges and become super-ecofriendly. This month, we highlight the future of the Italian capital.
(For an Italian-language review of the Ecotopia 2121 project, see National Geographic Italia)
In the 13th century, when Francis of Assisi was a youngster at a flashy ball among the sons and daughters of noblemen and women, he was asked this: "Now Francis, will you not soon make your choice from these beauties?" He is said to have replied "I have made a far more beautiful choice. La poverta!" Though his family was wealthy, and his home comforts and opportunities many, Francis often chose to eat and sleep with the poor on the streets of Rome and Assisi.
As well as choosing a life of poverty, Francis was renowned for his kindness to animals; speaking to them in a personable way in the same manner he’d speak to people. It’s said Francis also enjoyed preaching to flocks of birds and packs of wolves in the wild. And moreover, the birds and the wolves would listen attentively.
Maybe these stories are legends but it doesn’t really matter for many Catholic faithful believe them to be true. Every October 4th, the day after Francis died, Catholics from around the world gather to honor St. Francis of Assisi by bringing their animal companions to church for blessing. Many centuries later, in 1979, Pope John-Paul II pronounced Francis 'the patron saint of ecology'.
Some religions have to be dragged kicking and screaming into ecological consciousness. Probably Christianity belongs in this category. However, the new Pope is a keen follower of St. Francis, and indeed, he adopted the Saint’s name when he was elected in 2013. Within days he was declaring that the pursuit of riches leads to despoliation in nature and that it is the sacred duty of Catholics to preserve all living parts of God’s creation. Many reactionary Catholics, and Donald Trump too, threw their heads back in disgust.
If the impetus of Pope Francis’ Green message flows throughout wider Christendom, the ramifications may be profound. Perhaps, one day, we may eventually arrive in Rome 2121. Here Catholic priests and priestesses from around the world have come to emulate various Green Catholic heroes--and every Sunday after mass, they join with schoolchildren to get their feet dirty by walking the city picking up trash and planting trees in suitable soil.
As well as this, in 2121, the papal head becomes a permanent representative within the United Nations’ most important assemblies and councils; and if he’s anything like Francis, the Pope of 2121 may become the singularly most powerful environmental lobbyist in world politics.