Remembering Pope Benedict XVI: the ‘Green Pope’

Quite rightly, much is being said about Pope Francis and his ecological reflections. But we should not forget Pope Benedict XVI, and how important his papacy was for advancing and understanding a Catholic environmental doctrine, in full continuity with what Pope Francis is teaching. It is hard to explain the importance of Pope Benedict’s on this subject, and we should remember how the secular world recognized his achievements in this area. Linked here a few of his key addresses (here, here and here) and a picture of him receiving an electric car in September 2012.

In one of his last addresses, 2 days after he announce his resignation, he spoke the International Fund for Agricultural Development. While he mentioned the environment and respecting its concerns, the address centered on the role of working the land and farming as a way of helping the poor and contributing to solidarity. In fact, solidarity was at the core of his message. The principle of subsidiarity, biodiversity, the role of the family and economy as gift were also mentioned.  See below some key passages:

“…cooperation – while it is tied to differing social and environmental contexts, and to respect for the proper laws of technology and the economy – is more effective when it is guided by the foundational ethical principles of human coexistence, that is to say, those essential values which, by their universal character, can animate all political, economic and institutional activities, including forms of multilateral cooperation. In this regard, I have in mind first of all the methodology followed by IFAD, which gives ongoing development priority over mere assistance, and places the group dimension alongside the purely individual dimension, to the point of setting up forms of interest-free grants and loans, often choosing, as the primary beneficiaries, the “poorest of the poor”. This activity shows that approaches inspired by the principle of gratuitousness and by the culture of gift can “find their place within normal economic activity” (Caritas in Veritate, 36). And indeed, the approach taken by the Fund is to link the elimination of poverty not only to the fight against hunger and the guarantee of food security, but also to the creation of work opportunities and institutional decision-making structures. It is well known that when these elements are missing, the involvement of rural labourers in choices that affect them is restricted, hence reinforcing their sense of being limited in their capacity and their dignity.

 The Catholic Church in her teaching and her activity has always upheld the centrality of the worker on the land, urging concrete political and economic action in areas that affect him. This stance, I am happy to observe, harmonizes with the Fund’s approach in underlining the role of farmers, as individuals and as small groups, thus actively involving them in the development of their communities and countries. This attention to the person, both individually and collectively, will be more effective if it is achieved through forms of association, both cooperatives and small family businesses with the wherewithal to produce an income that is sufficient to support a decent standard of living.

In this regard, our thoughts turn to the next International Year that the United Nations has chosen to dedicate to the rural family, promoting a deep-rooted and sound notion of agricultural development and of the fight against poverty, based on this fundamental cell of society”

Pope Francis’ environmental teachings

I have gone through all of Pope Francis’ messages to the public to date (excludes letters and addresses to a specific audience, such as to the Jesuit superior or Justin Welby for example), and have counted 10 of these. Of the 10, 5 of them contain specific references to the environment, and some of them quite emphatic. I have talked about the first few here. This has led many people from other faiths and perspectives to become excited about his environmental teachings, such as this article on ‘Francis the Scientist’, here. 

However, some Catholics seem worried that Pope Francis’ words, gestures and actions are being misrepresented by the media to promote their own agendas. I think that this is happening in some instances is true (see this Jesuit claim the Pope will bring women to power here), and this is also the case with his environmental message. Take this op-ed for example, which says:

“Maybe this pope will say that protecting the environment, dealing with climate change and taking care of the poor, and the hungry, and making sure that justice happens are things that are equally important as not aborting babies or using birth control.”

And that’s precisely the point, that these things are not equally important. Pope Francis, whenever he mentions the environment (more on that later) also mentions human dignity and proclaims Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, the environment does feature highly in the new Pope’s messages. Such is the case, he is caricatured in the press as being a protector of creation (see cartoon).

 Also, its important to remember that Pope Francis is really continuing a tradition that began with Pope John Paul II, was strengthened by Pope Benedict XVI and now is being extended and developed by Pope Francis, as explained in this article on Vatican News.

But lets look at what Francis actually said so far on the environment.

1. Address to the media:

Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!

2. Inauguration Mass (creation mentioned 6 times, environment twice):

The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live….

Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.

3. Audience with religious leaders of other faiths:

The Church is likewise conscious of the responsibility which all of us have for our world, for the whole of creation, which we must love and protect. There is much that we can do to benefit the poor, the needy and those who suffer, and to favour justice, promote reconciliation and build peace….

we also sense our closeness to all those men and women who, although not identifying themselves as followers of any religious tradition, are nonetheless searching for truth, goodness and beauty, the truth, goodness and beauty of God. They are our valued allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in safeguarding and caring for creation.

4. Audience with the Diplomatic Corps:

Fighting poverty, both material and spiritual, building peace and constructing bridges: these, as it were, are the reference points for a journey that I want to invite each of the countries here represented to take up. But it is a difficult journey, if we do not learn to grow in love for this world of ours. Here too, it helps me to think of the name of Francis, who teaches us profound respect for the whole of creation and the protection of our environment, which all too often, instead of using for the good, we exploit greedily, to one another’s detriment.

5. Palm Sunday Homily

Love of power, corruption, divisions, crimes against human life and against creation! And – as each one of us knows and is aware – our personal sins: our failures in love and respect towards God, towards our neighbour and towards the whole of creation. Jesus on the Cross feels the whole weight of the evil, and with the force of God’s love he conquers it, he defeats it with his resurrection.

Finally, it seems to me that the structure that I often find repeated when the Pope mentions the environment, includes the 4 levels of relationship: God, oneself, others and creation. I am thinking that reconciliation may emerge as a prominent theme in his pontificate. Looking at Card. Bergoglio’s homilies, for example these two here and here in Buenos Aires, the theme of reconciliation is very apparent.

Pope Francis: A great start for Creation – a dog is blessed

Pope Francis blesses the guide dog of a journalist, along with his owner and family.

Pope Francis has taken the world by surprise. There are so many, early, yet beautiful signs and important gestures from the Holy Father of great importance for the Church and the world. Many people are highlighting his humility, charity, poverty and prayer life. These are so true and most important. In a his first words as Pope at the “Missa pro Ecclesia” he said some radical works of the centrality of Christ (1), and in his address to Cardinal’s he mentioned the importance of hope and evangelization (2):

(1)We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord… When we do not profess Jesus Christ, the saying of Léon Bloy comes to mind: “Anyone who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil.”

(2) strive to respond faithfully to the Church’s perennial mission: to bring Jesus Christ to mankind and to lead mankind to an encounter with Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life, truly present in the Church and also in every person…. the Holy Spirit bestows upon the Church, with his powerful breath, the courage to persevere and also to seek new methods of evangelization, so as to bring to Gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8). Christian truth is attractive and persuasive because it responds to the profound need of human life, proclaiming convincingly that Christ is the one Saviour of the whole man and of all men. This proclamation remains as valid today as it was at the origin of Christianity, when the first great missionary expansion of the Gospel took place.

However, the theme of Creation, as anticipated in my last post, is gaining much importance as well, though it will never, and should not, be The central theme. None the less it is an important theme that Pope Benedict XVI anticipated as a key sign of the times, and which Pope Francis will further develop. In his speech to the media, Pope Francis explained the choice of his name:

Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!

No, we do not have a good relationship with creation. As if that weren’t enough, in his now common improvisational and off the cuff gestures and words, he blessed a labrador dog who accompanied a journalist to make the point. The blind journalist Allesandro Forlani who attended the media address said that it was the Pope’s security guards who told him the Pope wanted to meet him. Overwhelmed by the unexpected gesture, the journalist asked the Pope to bless his wife and daughter, but that the first one to receive the blessing was his 8 year old labrador, Asia. This is what this kind man said to the secular media in his speech:

I love all of you very much, I thank you for everything you have done. I pray that your work will always be serene and fruitful, and that you will come to know ever better the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the rich reality of the Church’s life.

Welcome Pope Francis

It is with great joy that we have received news of Pope Francis. There are tons of reports and anecdotes about the humility, spiritual life and simplicity of the new Pope. As with Pope Benedict XVI, I will be focusing on his words, teachings and actions that have repercussions with regards to environmental matters. Certainly his name, Francis which refers to the Saint of Assisi, suggests there will be plenty of material on the way. Tomorrow I will post two significant environmental aspects in recent homilies.

After Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, we may stop speaking of Green Pope’s, and move towards the rich tradition of environmental teaching of the Catholic Church, a ‘Green spirituality’ which well understood, as in the case of Franciscan spirituality, has the dignity of the human person at the center and the love of God as the goal.

The next Pope? Cardinal Scola on nature and freedom

Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Angelo Scola

As the conclave begins today, there is much speculation about the who next Pope will be. While it is impossible to know, and we should not underestimate the ‘microculture’ of Cardinals impacting the outcome, one of the candidates is Cardinal Scola. The current Archbishop of Milan has written before on nature and environmental issues, among other themes. In an article in ‘Communio’ last year, focused on the participation of Karol Wojtyla in Vatican II, he said:

“The nature of the human person is revealed in every relationship but above all in the relationship to the personal God, who is himself a perpetual event of relation and trinitarian exchange…the human person, in every relation with himself, with others and with the world, might understand and put into action the truth of his integral vocation”. Here we see clear signs of the awareness, following the teachings of Archbishop Wojtyla, of a trinitarian theology, emphasizing the relational dimension of existence and recognizing the basic relations that make for a theology of reconciliation. The theology of reconciliation is the backbone of Creatio and greatly promoted as an approach to engage environmental issues.

Recently, 2 weeks ago, I was able to participate in a Conference where Cardinal Scola spoke on religious freedom. Below a summary of his speech:

Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan, spoke to an audience yesterday in Washington DC about the importance of religious freedom in our times. He began his speech with a historical outline of religious freedom, tracing its roots to the Edict of Milan in 313, which also ended the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. He quickly moved to the present time where the issue of religious freedom has arisen to respond to the “emergency” of religious persecution, which is on the increase around the world. Among other regions of the world, Cardinal Scola specifically mentioned the Unites States, and the HHS mandate as an imposition of a limitation on religious freedom and an expression of “civilizational malaise”.

Cardinal Scola, speaking at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family ‘Conference on Dignitatis humanae’, then outlined two of the “thorny issues” concerning religious freedom. The first is the relationship between religious freedom and peace. There is a close correlation between these two issues, and recent experience demonstrates that when the state imposes limitations on religious freedom this tends to increase resentment and frustration among its citizens.

The second issue, which is related to the first and is more complex, concerns the attitude of the state and public institutions with regard to religious freedom. While only a few decades ago public institutions made substantial references to anthropological positions based on religious views, now these are disallowed and must be replaced by ‘neutral’ positions. This marginalizes individuals who profess a belief in certain truths. This liberalist framework, which is presented in the guise of neutrality, is in fact an institutional prejudice against religions. The case for the states neutrality rests on the now antiquated assumption that the deepest social divisions are among different religious groups. The truth is that today the deepest social division is rather a different one, between secularist culture and religious culture. In this way, it is the “non confessionality of the state” that leads public power to defend secularity while discriminating against religious groups, labeling them as partisan and shutting them out of the public arena. This makes the state non impartial, where legislation becomes hostile to cultural identities of religious origin.

The remedy of this situation, said Cardinal Scola, requires the centrality of truth as an essential condition. The adherence to truth is only possible in a personal and voluntary way and this hinges on the personal commitment to truth, which is both a duty and a right. This commitment to truth makes the distinction between religious freedom and religious indifferentism. Religious freedom becomes an empty concept if we do not suppose the existence of truth. In concluding, Cardinal Scola quoted Pope Benedict XVI extensively and explained that the state must not only create a space for expressing religion but the need for giving a reason for believing. This reason must be intelligent and touch the other person, a task that requires effort but is fascinating. Finally, quoting Pope Benedict, he said that this dimension of witness always carries a martyriological component.


The Pope’s last words on nature: Scaling the mountain

In Pope Benedict XVI’s very last address in Castelgandolfo, already ‘retired’ he mentioned that one of his joys is to be in the beauty of creation:

“I am happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of Creation and your kindness, which does me so much good…”

Though certainly not the central theme in the Pope’s last days, the aspect of nature and the environment has been remarkably present in speeches and addresses. In his last Angelus, meditating on the transfiguration of Jesus he said:

“In meditating on this passage of the Gospel, we can learn a very important lesson from it: first of all, the primacy of prayer, without which the entire commitment to the apostolate and to charity is reduced to activism. In Lent we learn to give the right time to prayer, both personal and of the community, which gives rest to our spiritual life. Moreover, prayer does not mean isolating oneself from the world and from its contradictions, as Peter wanted to do on Mount Tabor; rather, prayer leads back to the journey and to action. “The Christian life”, I wrote in my Message for this Lent, “consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love” (n. 3).

Dear brothers and sisters, I hear this word of God as addressed to me in particular at this moment of my life. Thank you! The Lord is calling me “to scale the mountain”, to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church; indeed, if God asks me this it is precisely so that I may continue to serve her with the same dedication and the same love with which I have tried to do so until now, but in a way more suited to my age and strength.”

Scaling the mountain is the central message in the Pope’s reflection, and he applies it to his life, almost literally, on his journey to Castelgandolfo. On the power of the climbing metaphor to explain this Christian reality, see here and here. The referred to message of Lent for 2013 uses this idea to express the relationship between faith and charity:

“Faith is knowing the truth and adhering to it (cf. 1 Tim 2:4); charity is “walking” in the truth (cf. Eph 4:15). Through faith we enter into friendship with the Lord, through charity this friendship is lived and cultivated (cf. Jn 15:14ff). Faith causes us to embrace the commandment of our Lord and Master; charity gives us the happiness of putting it into practice (cf. Jn 13:13-17). In faith we are begotten as children of God (cf. Jn 1:12ff); charity causes us to persevere concretely in our divine sonship, bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22). Faith enables us to recognize the gifts that the good and generous God has entrusted to us; charity makes them fruitful (cf. Mt 25:14-30).

3. The indissoluble interrelation of faith and charity

In light of the above, it is clear that we can never separate, let alone oppose, faith and charity. These two theological virtues are intimately linked, and it is misleading to posit a contrast or “dialectic” between them. On the one hand, it would be too one-sided to place a strong emphasis on the priority and decisiveness of faith and to undervalue and almost despise concrete works of charity, reducing them to a vague humanitarianism. On the other hand, though, it is equally unhelpful to overstate the primacy of charity and the activity it generates, as if works could take the place of faith. For a healthy spiritual life, it is necessary to avoid both fideism and moral activism.

The Christian life consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love. In sacred Scripture, we see how the zeal of the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel and awaken people’s faith is closely related to their charitable concern to be of service to the poor (cf. Acts 6:1-4). In the Church, contemplation and action, symbolized in some way by the Gospel figures of Mary and Martha, have to coexist and complement each other (cf. Lk 10:38-42). The relationship with God must always be the priority, and any true sharing of goods, in the spirit of the Gospel, must be rooted in faith…”

A Tribute to Pope Benedict XVI

I would like to wish many blessings to Pope Benedict XVI today as his first day as Pope Emeritus, who has given so much wonderful food for thought and wisdom for this blog and above all to Catholics and people of good will around the worl,. Most of my posts on this blog have been focused on his messages, and they have inspired many other reflections. Of all articles flooding the media these days, this one is the best in my opinion, by Alice von Hildebrand. With her I say, “Thank You Pope Benedict XVI!’

On her account of Benedict, von Hildebrand says the following, which is relevant to the environment with regards to the role of beauty:

Benedict XVI is shy: For him these endless meetings and encounters with “famous” personalities, heads of states, etc. were clearly nothing like penance. But it is my personal conviction that he knew he could transmit a message that completed the one of his predecessor.
More than the latter, he had an extraordinary sense for the sacred value of tradition – the golden cord linking us to the past, as Plato put it. He felt keenly that “modern man,” inebriated by his mind-boggling technological discoveries, was losing sight of a precious heritage that is never old  because rooted in eternity. His superb artistic background – particularly in music – (a domain in which he certainly has not only a remarkable knowledge, but also a talent as a pianist) – made him aware that “modern culture” was in fact an anti-culture, and that a society in which the youth is fed on Rock and Roll was being given a subtle poison. In the Republic, now close to 25 centuries ago, Plato mentioned that “decadence begins in music. This is certainly what took place immediately after the end of World War II. Truth when cut off from Beauty tends to become abstract; it must be “incarnated.” From its very beginning Christian art, which has blossomed so magnificently in Europe, has taught the faith to millions of little children. Much of modern youth is fed on ugliness; and the Devil is its incarnation.

The vicious attacks on the sacred Tridentine Mass, the horrible architecture of some “modern” churches, sometimes copying a gym, the deafening noise (called music), the lack of reverence in religious ceremonies, were things which Benedict XVI clearly perceived were preventing young people from finding their way to their Mother the Church and perceiving the loving tenderness of Her message. He whose background in the beautiful baroque Catholic culture of Bavaria, had fed him on sacred beauty since his very baptism heard a call: make them aware of the unity of Truth, Goodness and Beauty; all incarnated in the Catholic Church through Christ.

Among the last messages of the Pope in February, were his reflections on the theme of truth and beauty, fruit or his spiritual exercises directed by Cardinal Ravasi. These are some of the Pope’s words:

The “Logos” is not only mathematical reason: the “Logos” has a heart, the “Logos” is love. Truth is beautiful, truth and beauty go together: beauty is the seal of truth. And, nevertheless, you, through the Psalms and through our daily experience, also firmly stressed that the “very beautiful” of the sixth day – spoken by the Creator – is permanently contradicted, in this world, by evil, by suffering, by corruption. It seems that the evil one wants permanently to stain creation, to contradict God and to make his truth and beauty unrecognizable. In a world so characterized also by evil, the “Logos,” the eternal Beauty and the eternal “Art,” must appear as a “caput cruentatum” (bloody head). The incarnate Son, the incarnate “Logos,” is crowned with a crown of thorns; and nevertheless, precisely in this way, in this suffering figure of the Son of God, we begin to see the most profound beauty of our Creator and Redeemer; and yet we can, in the silence of the “dark night,” hear the Word. Believing is nothing other than touching the hand of God in the darkness of the world and thus, in silence, to hear the Word, to see Love.

Again we see the relationship of truth and beauty. Once again these themes connect us to the mystery of creation, and also of sin which lead one to Christ, the Reconciliation. The psalms deeply speak about these realities, and express the hope in reconciliation to come. The theme of beauty and nature has been explored here and here