Laudato si’: The Catholic approach to climate change


Laudato si’ and climate change

            Climate change is, not surprisingly, the most controversial and politically charged issue in Laudato si’. It has been a source of heated debate and confusion especially in the American context. In this essay I will outline everything the encyclical Laudato si’ says on climate change and then compare and contrast with the latest scientific, technical and academic knowledge. For the sake of clarity, I will distinguish and analyze the statements on climate change under three divisions: science, policy, and politics and economics. These are artificial divisions since these issues are all interrelated, as the encyclical itself indicates, but they serve our analytical purposes.

[Note: I encourage the reader to glance at my two previous articles on Laudato si’ about hermeneutics and its proper interpretation, so that I am not misinterpreted on climate change, as I believe the Pope has been in many cases).

Introduction

Let me begin with a thought provoking – and provocative – quote that I believe gets at the heart of the debate on climate change: “Isn’t it a question of everything or nothing? To be quite frank, the Either-Or people seldom appear to practice their own severity. Their uncompromising attitude looks suspiciously like rhetoric.”

These are the words of Romano Guardini, the most quoted author in Laudato si’ and the Pope’s great inspiration for understanding the relationship between man and creation. However, these words are not from Guardini’s well-known critiques of modernity but rather from his more famous spiritual work, The Lord. The context of this passage is the Sermon on the Mount. Guardini is reflecting on Jesus’ demand to love ones enemies and on how difficult it is to fulfill this in practice. Faced with such a challenge, Guardini proposes taking small steps in the right direction. The quote above is the objection of the Either-Or people to Guardini’s solution: “But isn’t it a question of everything or nothing?”

Guardini then responds to his critics: “No, what the Sermon on the Mount demands is not everything or nothing, but a beginning and a continuing, a rising again and a plodding on after every fall”. My suggestion is that the path forward on climate change requires the same path that Guardini paves for the Sermon on the Mount – a genuinely Christian one. And this is exactly what Pope Francis has given us in Laudato si’. Let me explain.

            This curious parallel between climate change and the spiritual life is not original. The best book on climate change, by climate scientist Mike Hulme called “Why we disagree about climate change?”, makes this very point. Hulme argues that climate change is a very real threat but that to find a solution to this issue we need to explore how climate change can “bring the physical and the cultural, the material and spiritual, into a new realignment… a mirror into which we can look and see exposed both our individual selves and our collective societies” (2009, 357). This is also the central message of Laudato si’ with regards to climate change – a new realignment is needed: “the present ecological crisis is one small sign of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity…” for which we need “ecological conversion… whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them” (218).

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How to read Laudato Si: intention, structure, form and content

Catholics who do not embrace the spirit of Evangelii gaudium will likely be confused by Laudato Si

            In my previous article I already pointed out the 3 salient aspects of Laudato Si: its prophetic style, invitation to conversion and Trinitarian theology. I was going to technically discuss climate change in Laudato si’ vis-à-vis the latest policy and science on the issue. But before I do that, now I find a more urgent need to explain the way one should read Laudato si’, given the amount of perplexed and negative responses (mostly by Catholics) in the media.

I find many of these reactions quite embarrassing for so many who call themselves ‘sons and daughters of the Church’; not primarily because they dissent from the Pope, but because of the (poor) reasons they give for doing so. There are many non-Christians who are able to read and interpret Laduato si’ in a much more open, nuanced and sophisticated way, in the same spirit in which it was written.

My central thesis in this article is that, for Catholics, embracing the spirit of evangelization as expressed in Evangelii gaudium is a prerequisite for understanding Laudato si’. Most Catholics who oppose Ladudato si’ do so because they have a very limited idea what it means to evangelize.

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Pope Francis and Evolution

The media uproar about Francis liberating the Church from creationism and sanctioning evolution has already passed and gone, but the idea has stuck. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the Church has always taught what Francis said… even Time and the Washington Post got it right, with good articles.

What is interesting to me though, is the fact that Francis is able to get the message out. As distorted as the media narrative may be about Francis revolutionizing Church teaching, the point is that now most people care about what the Pope says. Continue reading

The Overview Effect of Francis

This video pictures an important intuition, of the need of unity and wonder, which requires us all to rise above our limited and at times conflictive visions of reality. One world united. While the idea is beautiful and the video inspiring, we have a long way to go. How do we really forge this vision among the worlds leaders, let alone the worlds people?

Well, Pope Francis has a proposal. Continue reading

HUMANIZING ECOLOGY

 

Strarford and Sophie Caldecott present us a resume of their lecture presented in the frame of WYD held in Rio de Janeiro on July, 2013. This beautiful document have special relevance in the context of the next encyclical about Ecology that our Pope is writing.

 

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Through the pontificates of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, ecology has become an important part of Catholic social teaching. In 2011, Pope Benedict said, “The importance of ecology is no longer disputed. We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly.” In his inaugural Mass, Pope Francis asked us to become “’protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” We have been reminded over and over again that, as Pope Francis also said in a Tweet on 5 June: “Care of creation is not just something God spoke of at the dawn of history: he entrusts it to each of us as part of his plan.”

Many scientist have dedicated their life to trying to save as much as they can, but many of them do it without the support that our faith gives us. They are defending God’s creation without even knowing who God is – just because they know it is the right thing to do. Not only are they defending the beauty of nature, but also they are trying to help preserve human life on earth, which depends on the survival of the “ecosystem”. As Catholics, we have even more reason to get involved in this issue. Our Christian faith tells us that this responsibility is part of what we were created for. The Book of Genesis (2:15) tells us “God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”

Like response to the mentioned before, we need a humanistic ecological vision that takes account of the special nature of human beings, as well as the ecosystem in which we belong. This vision, as Pope Benedict said, should take in “not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations”; that is, our “duties towards the human person” (Caritas in Veritate, 51). For all these things are part of what we mean by the nature of human beings. We are social by nature. We are born into families. We find meaning in our lives through loving and serving others. We have a dignity that can be expressed in the form of rights and duties.

Pope Benedict taught us that Christianity tries to balance the value of the human person with the value of nature as God’s creation. The Book of Genesis – as well as the Psalms and many other parts of the Bible, which praise the glories of nature – teach Christians to be responsible and gentle and wise in the way we behave towards the world around us. The virtue of Prudence instructs us to take special care to preserve the natural resources on which our lives and those of our children depend. The other three “cardinal virtues” that are part of the Christian life are just as relevant. Temperance tells us that we must not become greedy, addicted to consumption, living a lifestyle that depends on having more and more. The virtue of Justice reminds us that many of us in the richer countries of the world support our lifestyle at the expense of the poorer countries. And we need the virtue of Fortitude or Courage to strengthen us for what we have to do – to find ways to change the way we live, to be kinder to the earth, fairer to our fellow human beings, and merciful towards the animals and plants that God has created out of his love and wisdom.

Pope Francis recently condemned our culture’s unrestrained greed, saying: “Man is not in charge today, money is in charge, money rules. God our Father did not give the task of caring for the earth to money, but to us, to men and women: we have this task! Instead, men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the ‘culture of waste.’”

As young people we are consumers of clothing, and most of us would agree we should try to make sure we are not supporting unfair businesses, or buying things whose negative impact on the environment is hidden from view. If we are running a business, it is easy to say that we must not exploit our workers unfairly, or use immoral or illegal business practices to destroy competitors. That’s easy to say, sometimes less easy to do, in a fiercely competitive economy. We need ethical consumer organizations and corporate whistleblowers to help us. One thing we mustn’t do is assume that what we buy, what we wear, what we eat, is somehow unconnected with what I was saying earlier about the planet. If there is one thing ecology has taught us, it is that everything is connected.

In his speech to the German Bundestag in September 2011 called “The Listening Heart”, Pope Benedict said this: “We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly. Yet I would like to underline a point that seems to me to be neglected, today as in the past: there is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself.”

The Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II is all about what we find when we understand our own nature as created by God. The Pope talks about the “spousal” or “nuptial” meaning of the body, about the fact that we were made for love, and that there is a “way of living the body” in its authentic masculinity and femininity. This nuptial meaning has been limited, violated and deformed over time and by modern culture, until we have almost lost the power of seeing it, but it is still there to be discovered with the help of grace, like a spark deep within the human heart. The “language of the body” is part of that “language of nature” that Pope Benedict speaks of. The way we live, the clothes we buy and wear, the work we do, the way we treat each other, and, yes, the way we treat animals and the whole of nature, should reflect our understanding of that language – the fact that we are put here not to destroy and exploit but to love and cooperate.

In our families, and with our children when they come, we must draw on the love that opens our eyes to reality, as Pope Francis says in his encyclical Lumen Fidei (2013): “Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment. Faith’s understanding is born when we receive the immense love of God which transforms us inwardly and enables us to see reality with new eyes” (n. 26). In turn, by revealing the love of God the Creator, faith “enables us to respect nature all the more, and to discern in it a grammar written by the hand of God and a dwelling place entrusted to our protection and care. Faith also helps us to devise models of development which are based not simply on utility and profit, but consider creation as a gift for which we are all indebted” (n. 55).

Papal Encyclical on Human Ecology

The rumors about a new encyclical dedicated to the environment were leaked a while ago. Articles can be seen here, here and here. While Vatican insider Andrea Torniele broke the news, the official News.Va site said the following:

 The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., confirmed on Friday that Pope Francis has begun work on a draft text on the topic of ecology, which could become an encyclical. But, Father Lombardi said, the project is in an early stage, so it is too early to make any prediction about the timing of possible publication.
Father Lombardi said it is important to note that Pope Francis intends to put particular emphasis on the theme of “human ecology,” a phrase used by Pope Benedict to describe not only how people must defend and respect nature but how the nature of the person – masculine and feminine as created by God – must also be defended.

This is not surprising considering Francis’ many comments and speeches about the environment (see examples here, here and here) and the continuity of ecology in the Magisterium of Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II. However, until this point no single encyclical has dealt with ecology as the central theme- and this is a huge step, crystalizing into a Magisterial response what Pope Benedict XVI identified as a “sign of the times” – the care for creation.

What Pope Francis will say exactly only a few people probably know. We can guess that he will connect ecology with poverty and solidarity, the culture of waste, the value of life and need for conversion and mercy… themes he often speaks about. Here, Creatio offers a few suggestions of important themes such a momentous encyclical should also include:

1. Ecology, Human ecology and holiness

            The ecology of nature and human ecology are deeply intertwined. Not only injustice and abuse in one affects the other[1], but the response of humankind very closely decides the fate of the creation we so much love and care for. Along with care for the natural environment, we also have to care for a “human ecology” that provides the space for the dignity and fulfillment of the human person and the good life for all according to God’s plan.[2] Following Vatican II, both the social and ecological problems rest in the heart of man: “The truth is that the imbalances under which the modern world labors are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man.”[3] It is in our hearts, each one’s heart, where the fate of mankind and of creation is decided. Jesus Christ gives us back our heart so we can love and serve (see Ez 36, 26). The environment suffers because the human person and society suffer. Every time we choose evil and sin, we are harming the little ones; creation and especially our vulnerable brothers and sisters. Human ecology shows that the best environmentalist is the saint, who loves in the image of Jesus Christ.

 

2. Reconciliation and Ecology

The theology of reconciliation helps Christians understand the human relationship with creation. Ecology and human ecology, all of reality, have as their foundation a Trinitarian dimension that impresses its relational dynamic of love. The anthropological consequence of the Trinity is the human being made for relationship and encounter at his deepest core. Relationship and love are what fulfills man; this has been broken by original sin and our own sins. We therefore are called to reconciliation at four fundamental levels, in order of importance, as outlined in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Reconciliatio et paenitentia: “four reconciliations which repair the four fundamental rifts; reconciliation of man with God, with self, with the brethren and with the whole of creation.”[4] This reconciliatory perspective lends itself to exploring the “culture of encounter” (so often repeated by Pope Francis and the CELAM document of Aparecida) for the environment and our relationship with it. The answer to a “culture of waste” is the “culture of encounter”, of giving and of charity.

 

3. Christocentrism

           This leads to a way of encounter as a positive response to ecological challenges. Inspired by anthropological pessimism, the environmental landscape of ideas is often littered with moralistic and conflictive approaches that often emphasize the negative aspects of our relationship and impact on nature, resulting in a “grave assault not only on nature, but also on human dignity itself.”[5] The Catholic faith rather than limit and place conditions on human interaction looks to an overabundance of relationship with creation in love, as expressed magnificently by St. Paul: “For all things are yours, and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor 21.23). All things belong to man, in full conformity with the biblical account of Genesis; but mankind understood in a distinctive Christological way. It is because man is made for God (CCC 27.45.356), called to live in the image of Christ (GS 22), that all things belong to him. A theologal anthropocentrism, or christocentrism, which affirms the unique dignity of man as the center of creation and whose distinctive trait is the relationship with God, is able to harmonize the “superior role of human beings”[6] with the responsibility to serve creation.

 

4. Power is service

            Biblical scholarship helps understand today’s environmental challenges. God’s command for man to ‘subdue’ and ‘lord’ over creation in the book of Genesis (see Gn 1), is within our sharing in the kingly mission of Christ[7], and so, profoundly Christological. Likewise is our duty to order society according to a human ecology. To criticize Christianity for promoting the abuse of creation or our fellow men is to misunderstand the meaning Jesus has given to power and authority: “the exercise of authority is service: we must never forget that true power, at any level, is service, whose bright summit is upon the Cross. John Paul II said “dominion granted to man by the Creator is not an absolute power, nor can one speak of a freedom to “use and misuse,” or to dispose of things as one pleases.”[8] Benedict XVI reminded that although man frequently equates authority with control, dominion, success, for God authority is always synonymous with service, humility, love; as Jesus who kneels to wash the Apostles’ feet (cf. Angelus, 29 January 2012), and says to his disciples: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them… It shall not be so among you.”[9] Abuse to both the natural and human ecology comes from revering the power of exercising reason and freedom without reference to what is good and true;[10] this is not Christianity but its corruption and betrayal.

 

5. Charity, Solidarity and Human Ecology

            Human ecology is the healthy environment conducive to authentic human fulfillment.[11] Charity in truth is the force that leads to human development and fulfillment as well as to the healthy ordering of society through justice and the common good,[12] fostering a human ecology. Being a common space, human ecology requires the existence of a public space and language for the community of peoples and states to reflect and debate what is truly right and just; drawing from nature, conscience and reason to seek in common the defense of human rights, peace and justice.[13] Human ecology also requires that family, work, architecture, urbanism, lifestyles and all of culture respond to authentic human nature. A human economy must not be ruled by greed or consumerism, but use its wealth and resources in solidarity, among people and nations, so the world’s population can satisfy its needs and live in dignity. Responsible stewardship over nature must ensure its protection and the sustainability of the entire human family now and in the future.[14]

Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the need for a change of lifestyle. Solidarity, suffering with others, using and having less in order to give more to others. Solidarity should be a guiding principle upon engaging specific environmental problems. In the complex and multivariate issue of climate change, solidarity privileges approaches that emphasize adaptation, that is helping vulnerable communities and even ecosystems who are at risk, rather than first investing in technological or long term economic solutions that disregard the immediate needs of the poor. In this regards, it is important that the encyclical engage specific ecological issues such as climate change, water availability, food, biodiversity, energy, resources extraction and economics, pollution, etc. However, we caution the Magisterium to use prudential judgment and to be careful in use of information available from experts, the media and academics. Many environmental issues are used as a screen for projecting particular ideologies and perspectives that the Church should be cautious about endorsing. In climate change for example, there is an important need for recognizing the reality of the situation while not amplifying the apocalyptic prophecies of the academic elite. Nonetheless, the Church must not shy away from engaging these topics specifically. Precise knowledge, wording and careful language will be crucial on these controversial issues.

 

6. Ecology, Human Ecology and evangelization

            Finally, the interest among modern culture, and especially the youth, on issues of ecology and human ecology can be a great avenue to encounter Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict XVI alerted: “And in this we must take care to perceive the signs of the times in our epoch, namely, to identify the potentials, aspirations and obstacles we encounter in today’s culture and in particular the wish for authenticity, the yearning for transcendence, and concern to safeguard Creation and to communicate fearlessly the response that faith in God offers.”[15] Reflection, experience and action in nature can point any person, believers and non-believers alike, to authentic transcendence itself, the Creator of the world. Human ecology can also help to evangelize culture by framing urgent social issues, such as those related to the family or to sustainable development, in an appealing way, with an objective reference to nature and in the context of the common good.

This invites Catholics to evangelize and reach those who are on the peripheries: “we cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. Many of them are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition.”[16] Experiences in nature and beauty can provide opportunities for responding to “missionary activity [which] still represents the greatest challenge for the Church.”[17] Since we “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings”[18], by living a human ecology in communion with creation we can literally move into the streets, fields and forests.

 

[1] Centesimus annus 37; World Day of Peace 2007, 8; Caritas in veritate, 51; World Day of Peace 2010, 11.

[2] Centesimus annus 38; Evangelium Vitae, 42.

[3] Gaudium et spes, 10.

[4] Pope John Paul II, Reconciliatio et paenitentia, 26.

[5]Benedict XVI, Message for the World Day of Peace 2010, 13.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Christifideles laici, 14.

[8] Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 34

[9](Pope Francis, Address to the International Union of Superiors General, 8 May 2013).

[10] Leo XIII, Libertas, 15; Centesimus annus, 4.

[11] Centesimus annus, 38.

[12] Caritas in veritate, 1, 2, 6, 7.

[13]Benedict XVI, Address to German Parliament, Sept. 2011.

[14] Caritas in veritate, 50, 51.

[15]Benedict XVI, Catechesis, 28 Nov. 2012.

[16]Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium 15.

[17]Redemptoris Missio, 40.

[18]Aparecida Document, 548.

Vatican activities for safeguarding Creation

Tebaldo Vinciguerra present us a resume on main activities of Vatican to safeguarding Creation, like part of his participation in the  Conference of Creation in the frame of the WYD 2013 held in Rio de Janeiro last July.

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Since we, Catholics believe our Creator has mandated the whole human race to be stewards of creation, the Church has always promoted the respect for the environment. Guided by the wisdom of God-Creator, the Church has always promoted the respect for the Earth, entrusted to humans.. In order to carry out this mission, Vatican develops different actions, described below.

 1) Diplomatic Activities of the Holy See

The Holy See (HS) is present in the life of several International Organizations (IO), mainly through its accredited diplomats. The official status of the HS in each IO is different: it officiates as guest, permanent guest, observer, member, founding member. The influence and the activities of the HS, consequently, also vary considerably in each context, according to its status but also to personnel relations or habits.

 The HS is very close to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and it is important to mention that under Pope Benedict XVI, the main contribution of HS was to encourage the International Community to address the global challenge of food (in) security, recommending not to focus only on technical or short-term problems. Indeed, famine is not entirely due to geographical and climatic situations, to conflicts or to harvest scarcity. It is also caused by human selfishness. A true world development, organized and integral, must be promoted and reached. It requires an objective knowledge of human situations, the identification of the real causes of poverty and effective responses, while respecting biodiversity and the whole Creation. In fact, the human being must not rashly compromise the natural balance, a result of the order of creation, but on the contrary must take care to pass on to future generations an earth able to feed them.

 Another important subject of the HS is the use of natural resources, its sustainability and its priorities: The order of creation demands that priority be given to those human activities that do not cause irreversible damage to nature, but which instead are woven into the social, cultural and religious fabric of the different communities. In this way, a sober balance is achieved between consumption and the sustainability of resources.

 The HS has participated in many international environmental meetings with a message of peace and environmental protection to get the common welfare. In this sense, the Holy See stresses the importance of moving from a merely technological model of development to an integral human model, which takes as its point of departure the dignity and worth of each and every person. Each individual member of society is called to adopt a vocational attitude which freely assumes responsibility, in genuine solidarity with one another and all of creation.

 These examples are sufficient in order to provide an overview of the activities undertaken by the HS in recent years through its diplomatic network. I summarize the main points: governance, solidarity, right-based approach, common good and political will.

 2) Other activities of the Holy See

For a more complete overview, we must have a look also to those activities not exactly belonging to the diplomatic area.

 Creation, understood as an ecosystem that can be analyzed, has been studied several times by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS). The PAS organizes in-depth thematic seminars, which usually lead to publications on issues like: water (2005), glaciers (2011), transgenic plants (2010) climate change and biodiversity (2010). The publications usually include the minutes of each seminar, which is quite interesting as they represent the contributions of scientist from different disciplines and different nations.

 The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences works in a similar way, but its publications only marginally concern the environment or ecology; for example in its studies on globalization.

 We should not forget that that Creation includes us… humans too! In this regard, the activities of the Pontifical Academy of Life ,need to be mentioned. It studies issues like: embryos (2006), right to life (2007), genetics or eugenics (2009). Recently, Pope Francis, strongly insisted on those issues: He stipulated “cultivating and guarding” doesn’t include only the relationship between humans and the environment, but they also concern human relationships.” «The Popes have spoken of human ecology as closely linked to environmental ecology. We are experiencing a moment of crisis; we see it in the environment, but mostly we see it in man. The human being is at stake: here is the urgency of human ecology.

 3) Activities of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

The contribution of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (PCJP) to the safeguard of the environment is multiform. There is a constant activity, demanding but enriching, of monitoring the main environmental issues. In the last years, for instance, the PCJP worked on water, energy, land management and food security. In a near future we will almost certainly work also on issues concerning extractive industries and mining corporations.

 4) The legacy of Benedict XVI

I would like to underscore three issues for reflection and action from the Magisterium of Benedict XVI.

Energy, a question deeply connected to justice and peace. Serious questions are waiting for effective responses and solutions. For instance: how can we use energy in solidarity and in a more durable way?

 International cooperation concerning Creation. International cooperation, finance, environmental issues and development ones are deeply woven. How and with which criteria can we manage investments, discourage harmful subsidies, and oppose hoarding of resources? Answer those challenges becomes rapidly a vital factor, if we speak about food, water, land, seeds. How can we foster development in each country, without maintaining dependency and underdevelopment? This requires radical and systemic changes. This include adopting an ethics and having institutions and economic structures more just both at national and international level. This requires governance.

 Human ecology. Remember that safeguard of the Creation, clearly, includes the human person, and I mean every human person.

Energy, internal cooperation and human ecology… These are the three points I would like us to reflect upon. Remember that: we cannot dispense ourselves from the Gospel and of Catholic values when we are dealing with the environment or, better, with the Creation. 

Pope Francis and the Environment 2013

             Here is a review of the most important messages of Pope Francis with regards to the environment in 2013. I have already mentioned many of his first pronouncements here, here and here. This post covers the official statements from important documents issued by the Pope. There is plenty of information, but first see this video of the Pope  in a private audience dedicated to garbage men and recyclers.

Lumen Fidei

In His first encyclical, on Faith, Francis has a few reflections on nature. There are 3 direct instances where the environment is mentioned. The first and second are connected, where faith is related to reason in the first instance and also how nature can be an aid for those who seek God. They are found in numbers 34 and 35 of the encyclical:

 [34] Nor is the light of faith, joined to the truth of love, extraneous to the material world, for love is always lived out in body and spirit; the light of faith is an incarnate light radiating from the luminous life of Jesus. It also illumines the material world, trusts its inherent order and knows that it calls us to an ever widening path of harmony and understanding. The gaze of science thus benefits from faith: faith encourages the scientist to remain constantly open to reality in all its inexhaustible richness. Faith awakens the critical sense by preventing research from being satisfied with its own formulae and helps it to realize that nature is always greater. By stimulating wonder before the profound mystery of creation, faith broadens the horizons of reason to shed greater light on the world which discloses itself to scientific investigation…

[35]… Religious man strives to see signs of God in the daily experiences of life, in the cycle of the seasons, in the fruitfulness of the earth and in the movement of the cosmos. God is light and he can be found also by those who seek him with a sincere heart.

On section 54 dedicated to the effects of Faith in society, Pope Francis explains the consequences for the environment as well. He reiterates the central idea that creation was made for man and that this rather than leading to destruction, if understood properly leads to greater care and reverence for Creation. The alternatives, based on the purposelessness of a world of chance, lead to man’s ultimate evasion of responsibility or the abuse of that responsibility. These ideas are in full continuation with Pope Benedict’s message for the World Day of Peace in 2010 and his book on Creation “In the beginning…” Here is the full excerpt:

… “In the second century the pagan Celsus reproached Christians for an idea that he considered foolishness and delusion: namely, that God created the world for man, setting human beings at the pinnacle of the entire cosmos. “Why claim that grass grows for the benefit of man, rather than for that of the most savage of the brute beasts?”46 “If we look down to Earth from the heights of heaven, would there really be any difference between our activities and those of the ants and bees?”47 At the heart of biblical faith is God’s love, his concrete concern for every person, and his plan of salvation which embraces all of humanity and all creation, culminating in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without insight into these realities, there is no criterion for discerning what makes human life precious and unique. Man loses his place in the universe, he is cast adrift in nature, either renouncing his proper moral responsibility or else presuming to be a sort of absolute judge, endowed with an unlimited power to manipulate the world around him.

55. Faith, on the other hand, by revealing the love of God the Creator, enables us to respect nature all the more, and to discern in it a grammar written by the hand of God and a dwelling place entrusted to our protection and care. Faith also helps us to devise models of development which are based not simply on utility and profit, but consider creation as a gift for which we are all indebted;…”

Evangelii Gaudium

In his long Apostolic Exhortation Pope Francis lays out, in a more ordered fashion, many of the themes of his Magisterium (and in fact of his thought before he was Pope). One of these which is related to the environment and has been mentioned before, has to do with the culture of waste, which includes material waste. On a section dedicated to the idolatry of money the Pope says:

[56] …In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.

[57] Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative…

Another related issue has to do with the issue of poverty and the call for solidarity. The Pope mentions the universal destination of goods, calls for an end to the scandal of starvation and the unequal distribution of food and again, wastefulness.

[190] With due respect for the autonomy and culture of every nation, we must never forget that the planet belongs to all mankind and is meant for all mankind; the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity. It must be reiterated that “the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others”.

[191] Seeing their poverty, hearing their cries and knowing their sufferings, we are scandalized because we know that there is enough food for everyone and that hunger is the result of a poor distribution of goods and income. The problem is made worse by the generalized practice of wastefulness”.[158]

Finally, the Pope dedicates two entire units to the environment, as some of the vulnerable that must be defended and invokes St. Francis of Assisi, his namesake.

[215] There are other weak and defenceless beings who are frequently at the mercy of economic interests or indiscriminate exploitation. I am speaking of creation as a whole. We human beings are not only the beneficiaries but also the stewards of other creatures. Thanks to our bodies, God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement. Let us not leave in our wake a swath of destruction and death which will affect our own lives and those of future generations.[177] Here I would make my own the touching and prophetic lament voiced some years ago by the bishops of the Philippines: “An incredible variety of insects lived in the forest and were busy with all kinds of tasks… Birds flew through the air, their bright plumes and varying calls adding color and song to the green of the forests… God intended this land for us, his special creatures, but not so that we might destroy it and turn it into a wasteland… After a single night’s rain, look at the chocolate brown rivers in your locality and remember that they are carrying the life blood of the land into the sea… How can fish swim in sewers like the Pasig and so many more rivers which we have polluted? Who has turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of color and life?”[178]

[216] Small yet strong in the love of God, like Saint Francis of Assisi, all of us, as Christians, are called to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live, and all its peoples.

World Day of Peace Address

Finally in his address for the World Day of Peace Pope Francis focuses on the themes of fraternity. He first mentions creation as one of the victims of selfishness in its many expressions:

“An authentic spirit of fraternity overcomes the individual selfishness which conflicts with people’s ability to live in freedom and in harmony among themselves. Such selfishness develops socially – whether it is in the many forms of corruption, so widespread today, or in the formation of criminal organizations, from small groups to those organized on a global scale. These groups tear down legality and justice, striking at the very heart of the dignity of the person. These organizations gravely offend God, they hurt others and they harm creation, all the more so when they have religious overtones.”

However, he goes a step further and explains the Christian vision of creation based on fraternity.

Fraternity helps to preserve and cultivate nature

9. The human family has received from the Creator a common gift: nature. The Christian view of creation includes a positive judgement about the legitimacy of interventions on nature if these are meant to be beneficial and are performed responsibly, that is to say, by acknowledging the “grammar” inscribed in nature and by wisely using resources for the benefit of all, with respect for the beauty, finality and usefulness of every living being and its place in the ecosystem. Nature, in a word, is at our disposition and we are called to exercise a responsible stewardship over it. Yet so often we are driven by greed and by the arrogance of dominion, possession, manipulation and exploitation; we do not preserve nature; nor do we respect it or consider it a gracious gift which we must care for and set at the service of our brothers and sisters, including future generations.

In a particular way, the agricultural sector is the primary productive sector with the crucial vocation of cultivating and protecting natural resources in order to feed humanity. In this regard the continuing disgrace of hunger in the world moves me to share with you the question: How are we using the earth’s resources? Contemporary societies should reflect on the hierarchy of priorities to which production is directed. It is a truly pressing duty to use the earth’s resources in such a way that all may be free from hunger. Initiatives and possible solutions are many, and are not limited to an increase in production. It is well known that present production is sufficient, and yet millions of persons continue to suffer and die from hunger, and this is a real scandal. We need, then, to find ways by which all may benefit from the fruits of the earth, not only to avoid the widening gap between those who have more and those who must be content with the crumbs, but above all because it is a question of justice, equality and respect for every human being. In this regard I would like to remind everyone of that necessary universal destination of all goods which is one of the fundamental principles of the Church’s social teaching. Respect for this principle is the essential condition for facilitating an effective and fair access to those essential and primary goods which every person needs and to which he or she has a right.

 

Building Jerusalem

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In this new year, we want to share some ideas of  Dr. Elias Crim, extracted from his lecture to the event “Jesus and Nature: Catholic Perspectives on Environmental Issues” organized by Creatio in the frame of the WYD, held in Rio de Janeiro last July.

 To Dr. Crim, Jerusalem is really what we Catholics call the civilization of love, and we are called to built this civilization not only amidst our natural environment but also amidst our built environment of cities and towns. In a way, we are also called to build this Jerusalem amidst the jungles of our own hearts and minds.

 Considering that in these days we can be witnesses of the crisis in the relationship between man and the environment, especially the view that nature is merely a raw material to be manipulated by technology or its extreme counterpart. We need  remember that environment is in fact a collective good and that the uses of biotechnology must  be evaluated with a particular view to their justice and solidarity.

 Likewise, considering the idea that we can link the environmental crisis with poverty, we need rise a new lifestyles that break with the culture of consumption in order to encourage an attitude of gratitude and appreciation at a world which reveals the mystery of God who created and sustains it.

 Taking into account Dr. Crim words, we expect the this new year we can develop a new lifestyle, in each one of our regions, in order to get a more peaceful, solidarity and just world, in which we can be protagonists of   the reconciliation between us and all God´s creation.

 We wish you a happy new year! God bless you