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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Book review: “Energy, Justice and Peace”

Energy, Justice and Peace

Energy is perhaps one of the most overlooked global issues of our times. One of the reasons for our obliviousness is that we tend to take energy for granted. The alarm clock that woke us up this morning, the water that flowed from the tap, the food (energy!) we ate for breakfast which allowed us to be productive and perhaps walk, bike or drive to work all tend to go unnoticed. Everyone, rich or poor, needs energy for life – it is a basic condition for human existence. Often times, many great complex global issues such as poverty and climate change evolve in grand narratives that steal the sunlight of our attention and cast energy in their shadow. However, it is impossible to find solutions for global poverty and climate change without tackling the energy dynamics embedded within them.

The Holy See’s latest publication “Energy, Justice and Peace” places ‘energy’ in the sunlight. The book offers a rich, informative account of global energy and provides a clear and balanced proposal on how to move forward. Guided by the social principles of the Catholic Church, “Energy, Justice and Peace” incorporates a breadth of perspectives that include theological, ethical and philosophical considerations along with the latest economic, environmental, political and scientific knowledge. The outcome is a well-rounded account that cuts through controversial and polemic debates and rather offers concrete and positive ways forward on energy and its related issues.

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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

Creatio Panelists Making an Impact

As we celebrate another Earth Day, its worth taking note of the impact of some of Creatio’s speakers on the environmental scene. Last week the Catholic News Agency published an article on the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace’s new book: “Energy, Justice and Peace: A reflection on energy in the current context of development and the protection of the environment.” The book was presented by Cardinal Peter Turkson, keynote speaker at the Creatio Rio Conference for WYD, and one of the authors was Tebaldo Vinguerra, also a panelist at the conference. Tebaldo was quoted by CNA: 

“Tebaldo Vinciguerra, an official of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, underscored the need for a “green economy” which is concerned with the good of human persons, and not solely profits or the environment.

According to the pontifical council, the book “is not a geopolitical analysis, a planning document of a technical character or a universal scope, but rather a reflection meant to nurture other reflections, to inspire decision making on the part of competent authorities … to provide theoretical knowledge to those directly engaged in the field, and finally to increase public awareness of the question of energy.”

“The approach is interdisciplinary and general, as the work of the Pontifical Council was made in the light of the Gospel, the social teaching of the Church and its principles and criteria of judgement, without entering into technical-political details.”

DEEPER ECOLOGY: A CATHOLIC VISION OF THE PERSON IN NATURE

The following is part of an article extracted from Communio 38:4 (winter 2011) 583 – 620 written by Mary Taylor and presented in the frame of the last WYD in Rio de Janeiro

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Fuente de la Imagen: Sólo para Viajeros.pe     (Revista de viajes, turismo y desarrollo)

PopeBenedict XVI, said during the World Youth Day held in Australia, “Reluctantly we come to acknowledge that there are scars which mark the surface of our earth: erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world’s mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption.”   Solet us start with an assertion: we are in the midst of an ecological crisis. Or, to mitigate the assertion: at the very least, many people perceive us to be in the midst of an ecological crisis, and even those who deny that there is any crisis at all must still deal with those who do – and that too can take the form of a crisis!

Thelitany of ills is long and readily visible and does not need to be repeated here; a vast field of ecology/environmental theorists and practitioners has risen up in response. One of the central concerns for these movements is sustainability, which seeks the assurance that nature’s resources will be continue to be available to us in the future. Its concomitant sisters are restoration – that which has been, in the Pope’s example, eroded, deforested, and squandered, should be regenerated – and conservation – “setting aside,” whether for genetic information to be used in the future cure of diseases, for scenic beauty, or other uses. While most people of good will agree on some form of these, there are different ways they can be approached.

Themanifestations of brokenness – both environmental degradation and disregard for life – are the result of actions that arise from free human choices; those choices may be economically or politically or even ethically motivated, but they have deeper roots. While there is not one single cause of those environmental crises (there are many proximate causes, some local, some not), ultimately questions about our relationships with others and with nature do not stand alone, but take their place within greater ontological and meta- anthropological dimensions, and must be faced by turning to those dimensions:  what do we take to be real and who do we think that we are.

Arecent text claims that there are over 200 schools of thought in ecology today.  We will consider them here under the rubric of “trajectories,” a word borrowed from Pope Benedict XVI; the word is chosen specifically because they encompass not – or not only – theories, but ways of thinking, of being, of acting, of living. It is always perilous to generalize, but the term is not meant to be totalizing metanarrative, a rigid taxonomy, a way to “control and colonize” ecological thinking, or a way to deny the complexity, variety, and distinctions within each trajectory.  Instead, the term is meant simply to point to, as Wittgenstein would put it, family resemblances.

FirstTrajectory

 Achemical company remediates a polluted site by digging up the contaminated earth andcarting it away. A paper-and-pulp company plants a tree for every tree cut down. A nonprofit gets a scenic area set aside as a wilderness preserve.  Any environmental project which seeks to conserve, restore, recycle, or otherwise manage natural resources when those resources are seen onlyin terms of their utility, and where sustainability is understood as nothing more than “utility extended into the future,” falls under the First Trajectory – the “instrumental rationalism of resource managerialism.”

Sustainabilityindicators – complex quantitative tools combining various indices and metrics– have been developed to highly sophisticated levels. Rightly ordered, they may be useful tools within the other trajectories, but here their defining feature is a reductive mode of thinking based on an antecedent calculative utilitarianism in which all factors are stripped down to the measurable for a single goal: “environmental policies are designed to maximize human satisfaction or minimize human harms.”

The First Trajectory’s antecedents are found in modernity’s dualism between the person and the world; the human is the subject and nature is the object, to be known by a form of science seen as the final arbiter in all human endeavors.

SecondTrajectory 

 TheSecond Trajectory is the home of all projects which focus on nature as a holistic system that needs to be sustained for its own sake and not simply for human utility and efficiency. The idea is not to save nature for humans, but to save it by “letting be.” The same issues of sustainability, restoration, etc. may be considered, but they must be extended to living creatures and to the land. Second Trajectory ecological thought arose positively with the awareness of the delight to be taken in the natural world that was missing from positivism. It invokes, often in expressions of great beauty, the wonder at the heart of our relation with the earth. Philosophically, the Second Trajectory is part of postmodernity’s attack on the presuppositionsof the Enlightenment, including its assessment of the subject/object distinction in epistemology and mind/body, self/nature dualism (eco-phenomenology has been very influential here), and the overemphasis on reduction, mechanization, and quantification, derived from physics and extended to other fields.

TheSecond Trajectory’s holism is a philosophy of identity, in which, Benedict XVI has said, “the person is not an ultimate reality…[since] the person, the contrast between the I and the Thou, belongs to the sphere of distinctions;” instead, the boundaries between persons, and between persons and the natural world, “are absorbed, are revealed as provisional.”True solidarity based on respect is impossible not only with humans but with nonhuman entities if each living thing is nothing but “a dissipative structure, that …does not endure in and of itself butonly as a result of the continual flow in the system.”

  

ThirdTrajectory

 A few years ago, a young consecrated layman, Ricardo Simmonds (a member of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae and the founder of “Creatio,” a Catholic nonprofit that seeks reconciliation between persons and creation as a response to environmental problems) was given the project of creating a small park out of a garbage dump in a South American shantytown. If it had been a First Trajectory project, the initial step might have been an economic feasibility study, followed by hiring a planning/redevelopment consultant, then seeking out landscape designers, waste management engineers, and other technical help. A Second Trajectory project might have begun with an environmental impact assessment and a stakeholder charrette.  Instead, Simmonds put a large statue of the Virgin Mary in the middle of the dump.  First the mothers came to pray and plant flowers, carving out natural walkways; the children came to play; the fathers came and began hauling the garbage away; then others from both the shantytown and the city saw something beautiful happening that they wanted to be a part of, and volunteered their services, time, and money. This might seem like an isolated, irrelevant, or marginal event, and clearly a religious statue reflects a very specific milieu, but large-scale environmental projects have been carried out in a similar way: by reversing the standard order of starting with technical fixes and economic costs, which often lead to various social or political conflicts, and instead beginning with the common call to meet our deepest shared needs for meaning, beauty, mystery, and friendship. The other steps are not eliminated but are rightly ordered under what is most important.

We can see the above as an illustration of what Benedict XVI called a “new trajectory” in action:

A new trajectory of thinking is needed in order to arrive at a better understanding of the implications of our being one family; interaction among the peoples of the world calls us to embark upon this new trajectory, so that integration can signify solidarity rather than marginalization.

The name “Third Trajectory” gives the impression that it is another possible path to be set alongside the other two. But it is not simply another, ultimately indifferent choice, or a response to the others; it remembers and integrates what is good in them, while at the same transcending them.  This Trajectory really is new because its very grammar begins from a qualitatively different launching point, so that the ensuing alternative arc of its flight traces a solidarity that can embrace, heal, and bring to fruition all that is good in the earlier trajectories.  This trajectory, to borrow from David L. Schindler, is able “to integrate the achievements of modernity, while at the same time moving us truly beyond modernity.”

Benedict XVI sees both the extrinsic, functional relationality of the First Trajectory and the interrelatedness of the Second Trajectory, whether due to biology or choice, as inadequate: “Thinking of this kind requires a deeper critical evaluation of the category of relation.” This task, he continues, “cannot be undertaken by the social sciences alone, insofar as the contribution of disciplines such as metaphysics and theology is needed if man’s transcendent dignity is to be properly understood.” So we begin by turning from projects to principles.

In ecological thinking, the Third Trajectory is only now coming into being, awakened by the growing awareness that the first two trajectories are not sufficient. Operating through dualism, monism, or a dialectic of ambiguity, is too limiting. The suggestion is not to reject instrumental reason, interconnection, or dialectic; nor is it to turn one’s back on sustainability, restoration, or conservation. Sustainability, for example, involves more than insuring that we can continue consuming into the future. Though our natural resources are limited and finite, we have a need for meaning that transcends the material; only the infinite will suffice. Solidarity, which requires the participation of everyone involved, concerns more than merely overlapping interests and diverse perspectives; it involves a reversal.

The Third Trajectory does not necessarily promote any specific ecological practices. It draws on every other level and every other ecological method and strategy, not as something extra or added on, but as that which radiates the light by which the others are seen. Something Benedict XVI said about the Church finds an analogous echo in the Third Trajectory: “The Church does not have technical solutions to offer,” but rather points to the truth of human persons and their dignity and vocation, for “without truth, it is easy to fall into an empiricist and skeptical view of life, incapable of rising to the level of praxis because of a lack of interest in grasping the values — sometimes even the meanings — with which to judge and direct it.”

 Seeing the whole of creation as an analogical, participatory, personalist gift within which we are in communion with all other beings illuminates the experience of wonder and gratitude for the natural world; provides for genuine hope for the future; and opens the door to a solidarity that is relational in the deepest sense, one which transcends the anthropocentric/ biocentric divide and whose end, to borrow from Martin Luther King, “is reconciliation… redemption…[and] the creation of the beloved community.”

“The Poor” according to Francis

Much has been said by Pope Francis around the world, from secular media all the way to the inner workings of the Church. Lately, he was featured on the “Rolling Stone” magazine cover, accompanied by Bob Dylan lyrics “The Times they are a-changin”. As a friend of mine from the Vatican commented, this is probably the first and only celibate person to ever be granted the honor.

In what concerns the environment much has been said about Francis too (here, here and here for example), but his central theme seems to be poverty and mercy. Within the concept of poverty, there are important connections to the environment, especially on the oft repeated critique of the “culture of waste”, as well as the calling to reach the peripheries (in the theology of reconciliation the environment can be considered as peripheral) and of course even the Franciscan connection between poverty and love of nature.

Recently, Pope Francis has delivered messages that help us understand exactly what he, following the teachings of Jesus, understands poverty. There is clearly a material dimension to poverty,  but it is much more than that within a Christian understanding of the term. Below a few key statements:

1. Catechesis on Evangelization, June 18: I posted about this passage before here, where the Pope explained what he means by poor and a preferred term oh his: “existential peripheries”. The poor certainly include the materially poor, but also the materially rich who are spiritually poor:

“The Gospel is for all! Going out toward the poor doesn’t mean that we must become paupers or some sort of ‘spiritual bums’! No, that’s not what it means! It means that we must go towards the flesh of the suffering Jesus but Jesus’ flesh also suffers in those who don’t know it, with their studies, their intelligence, their culture. We must go there! That’s why I like to use the expression ‘go to the outskirts’, the existential peripheries. Everyone, all of them, [who suffer] from physical and real poverty to intellectual poverty, which is also real. All the outskirts, all the intersections of paths: go there. And there sow the seed of the Gospel by word and by witness.”

2. Message for Lent 2014: Here the Pope shows how Jesus lived and understood poverty, and the difference between destitution and poverty. The greatest destitution is to be without faith, hope and love – without God:

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor8:9). The Apostle was writing to the Christians of Corinth… What does this invitation to poverty, a life of evangelical poverty, mean for us today? First of all, it shows us how God works. He does not reveal himself cloaked in worldly power and wealth but rather in weakness and poverty: “though He was rich, yet for your sake he became poor …”. Christ, the eternal Son of God, one with the Father in power and glory, chose to be poor; he came amongst us and drew near to each of us; he set aside his glory and emptied himself so that he could be like us in all things (cf. Phil2:7; Heb 4:15)… It has been said that the only real regret lies in not being a saint (L. Bloy); we could also say that there is only one real kind of poverty: not living as children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ. 

In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it. Destitution is not the same as poverty: destitution is poverty without faith, without support, without hope. There are three types of destitution: material, moral and spiritual.Material destitution is what is normally called poverty, and affects those living in conditions opposed to human dignity: those who lack basic rights and needs such as food, water, hygiene, work and the opportunity to develop and grow culturally. In response to this destitution, the Church offers her help, her diakonia, in meeting these needs and binding these wounds which disfigure the face of humanity. In the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ. Our efforts are also directed to ending violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world, for these are so often the cause of destitution. When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth. Our consciences thus need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing.

No less a concern is moral destitution, which consists in slavery to vice and sin. How much pain is caused in families because one of their members – often a young person – is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography! How many people no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future, how many have lost hope! And how many are plunged into this destitution by unjust social conditions, by unemployment, which takes away their dignity as breadwinners, and by lack of equal access to education and health care. In such cases, moral destitution can be considered impending suicide. This type of destitution, which also causes financial ruin, is invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject his love. If we think we don’t need God who reaches out to us through Christ, because we believe we can make do on our own, we are headed for a fall. God alone can truly save and free us.

The Gospel is the real antidote to spiritual destitution: wherever we go, we are called as Christians to proclaim the liberating news that forgiveness for sins committed is possible, that God is greater than our sinfulness, that he freely loves us at all times and that we were made for communion and eternal life. The Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope! It is thrilling to experience the joy of spreading this good news, sharing the treasure entrusted to us, consoling broken hearts and offering hope to our brothers and sisters experiencing darkness….

Dear brothers and sisters, may this Lenten season find the whole Church ready to bear witness to all those who live in material, moral and spiritual destitution the Gospel message of the merciful love of God our Father, who is ready to embrace everyone in Christ…. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.

On the point of spiritual destitution we also are reminded of Card. Ratzingers words about evangelization and poverty on a message to catechists:

Jesus says: I have come to evangelize the poor (Luke 4:18); this means: I have the response to your fundamental question; I will show you the path of life, the path toward happiness—rather: I am that path.

The deepest poverty is the inability of joy, the tediousness of a life considered absurd and contradictory. This poverty is widespread today, in very different forms in the materially rich as well as the poor countries. The inability of joy presupposes and produces the inability to love, produces jealousy, avarice—all defects that devastate the life of individuals and of the world.

This is why we are in need of a new evangelization—if the art of living remains an unknown, nothing else works. But this art is not the object of a science—this art can only be communicated by [one] who has life—he who is the Gospel personified.

3. Message for the 29th World Youth Day 2014: In this message the Pope reflected on the beatitudes (Mt 5), especially “Blessed be the poor in spirit…”, and defines “poor in spirit” in the same way, as a voluntary divesting of glory, of giving to others, quoting Philippians 2,7 again. He also offers 3 concrete ways of making this spirit of poverty a way of life: being free from material wealth, seeing the poor differently and lastly, which I will quote in full, learning from the poor. Finally, the important relationship between evangelization and poverty, and it’s fruit: joy.

Here we see God’s choice to be poor: he was rich and yet he became poor in order to enrich us through his poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8:9). This is the mystery we contemplate in the crib when we see the Son of God lying in a manger, and later on the cross, where his self-emptying reaches its culmination. The Greek adjective ptochós (poor) does not have a purely material meaning. It means “a beggar”, and it should be seen as linked to the Jewish notion of the anawim, “God’s poor”. It suggests lowliness, a sense of one’s limitations and existential poverty. The anawim trust in the Lord, and they know that they can count on him.

However – and this is my third point – the poor are not just people to whom we can give something. They have much to offer us and to teach us. How much we have to learn from the wisdom of the poor! Think about it: several hundred years ago a saint, Benedict Joseph Labré, who lived on the streets of Rome from the alms he received, became a spiritual guide to all sorts of people, including nobles and prelates. In a very real way, the poor are our teachers. They show us that people’s value is not measured by their possessions or how much money they have in the bank. A poor person, a person lacking material possessions, always maintains his or her dignity. The poor can teach us much about humility and trust in God… 

There is a close connection between poverty and evangelization… The Lord wants a poor Church which evangelizes the poor. When Jesus sent the Twelve out on mission, he said to them: “Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the labourers deserve their food” (Mt 10:9-10). Evangelical poverty is a basic condition for spreading the kingdom of God. The most beautiful and spontaneous expressions of joy which I have seen during my life were by poor people who had little to hold onto. Evangelization in our time will only take place as the result of contagious joy.

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

Faith and Environment in Assisi

Below are some of the highlights of the Popes messages from his visit to Assisi, in honor of the patron saint of creation, St. Francis.

1. Respect Creation –  human ecology: First is the Pope’s Homily in Assisi where the Pope remember’s Franci’s love for Creation. And in full continuity with his predecessors, he also affirms the love for mankind, and the centrality of human beings in creation.

Francis began the Canticle of the Creatures with these words: “Praised may you be, Most High, All-powerful God, good Lord… by all your creatures (FF, 1820). Love for all creation, for its harmony. Saint Francis of Assisi bears witness to the need to respect all that God has created and as he created it, without manipulating and destroying creation; rather to help it grow, to become more beautiful and more like what God created it to be. And above all, Saint Francis witnesses to respect for everyone, he testifies that each of us is called to protect our neighbour, that the human person is at the centre of creation, at the place where God – our creator – willed that we should be. Not at the mercy of the idols we have created! Harmony and peace! Francis was a man of harmony and peace. From this City of Peace, I repeat with all the strength and the meekness of love: Let us respect creation, let us not be instruments of destruction! Let us respect each human being. May there be an end to armed conflicts which cover the earth with blood; may the clash of arms be silenced; and everywhere may hatred yield to love, injury to pardon, and discord to unity. Let us listen to the cry of all those who are weeping, who are suffering and who are dying because of violence, terrorism or war, in the Holy Land, so dear to Saint Francis, in Syria, throughout the Middle East and everywhere in the world. We turn to you, Francis, and we ask you: Obtain for us God’s gift of harmony, peace and respect for creation!

2. The Incarnation – “God loves matter”: The Pope affirms an important aspect of the Christian approach to reality, which loves matter and creation. It expresses the ability to see the physical and spiritual as related, and not divided. I have spoken of this before here and here.

When a cloistered nun consecrates her entire life to the Lord, a transformation happens beyond our understanding. It would be natural to think that this nun becomes isolated, alone with the Absolute, alone with God: it is an ascetic and penitent life. But this is not the path neither of a Catholic nor a Christian cloistered nun. The path always leads to Jesus Christ, always! Jesus Christ is at the centre of your life, your penitence, your community life, your prayer and also of the universality of prayer. And on this path the opposite of what one might think, happens to an ascetic cloistered nun. When she takes this path of contemplating Jesus Christ, of prayer and penitence with Jesus Christ, she becomes extremely human. Cloistered nuns are called to have a great humanity, a humanity like that of the Mother Church; human, to understand everything about life, to be people who know how to understand human problems, how to forgive, how to supplicate the Lord on behalf of others. Your humanity. Your humanity takes this road, the Incarnation of the Word, the path of Jesus Christ. And what is the mark of such a human nun? Joy, joy, when there is joy! I am sad when I find nuns who are not joyful. Perhaps they smile, but with the smile of a flight attendant….because that nun, like the Church, is on the path of being an expert in humanity. And this is your path: not too spiritual! When paths are too spiritual… I think for example of the foundress of the monasteries of your competition St Teresa. When a nun came to her, oh, with these things… she said to the cook: “Get her a steak!”. Always with Jesus Christ always. The humanity of Jesus Christ! Because the Word became flesh, God became flesh for us and this gives you human sanctity that is great, beautiful, mature, the sanctity of a mother. … Remember the story of St Teresa’s steak! It is important.

3. A culture of acceptance, not waste: The Pope insists on the theme of changing our culture of waste when he spoke to the sick and disabled children. He has connected this before to the environment. To be better environmentalists, we need to be good people first, loving, forgiving, giving…

Unfortunately, society has been polluted by the culture of “waste”, which is opposed to the culture of acceptance. And the victims of this culture of waste are precisely persons who are the weakest, the most fragile. In this home, however, I see a culture of acceptance in action. Of course, not everything can be perfect here either, but you are working together for a dignified life for those people in grave difficulty. Thank you for this sign of love that you offer us: this is a sign of true citizenship, human and Christian! Put the most disadvantaged people at the centre of social and political attention! At times instead families find themselves alone in taking care of them. What should we do? In this place real love can be seen, I say to everyone: let us multiply our work in the culture of acceptance, works primarily enlivened by a deep Christian love, love for the Crucified Christ, for the flesh of Christ, works which join together professionality, skilled work properly compensated with volunteer work, a precious treasure.

Serving with love and tenderness those who are in great need helps us to grow in humanity because they are true resources of humanity. St Francis was a rich young man, he had ideals of glory but Jesus, in the person of a leper, spoke to him in silence and he changed him, he made him understand what truly mattered in life: not wealth, nor power of weapons, nor earthly glory, but humility, mercy and forgiveness.

4. Know your dogs: This is less serious, but the Pope urged parish priests to know not only the name of their parishioners but also of their dogs. He connected it to the very Christian experience of walking, or pilgrimage as a people of God.

Here I think once more of you priests, and let me place myself in your company. What could be more beautiful for us than walking with our people? It is beautiful! When I think of the parish priests who knew the names of their parishioners, who went to visit them; even as one of them told me: “I know the name of each family’s dog”. They even knew the dog’s name! How nice it was! What could be more beautiful than this? I repeat it often: walking with our people, sometimes in front, sometimes behind and sometimes in the middle, and sometimes behind : in front in order to guide the community, in the middle in order to encourage and support; and at the back in order to keep it united and so that no one lags too, too far behind, to keep them united. There is another reason too: because the people have a “nose”! The people scent out, discover, new ways to walk, it has the “sensus fidei,” as theologians call it. What could be more beautiful than this?