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OF THE HOLY FATHER
ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME
- “Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces vari- ous fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.
- This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irre- sponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made of her elements, we breathe her air and we re-ceive life and refreshment from her waters.
Nothing in this world is indifferent to us
- More than fifty years ago, with the world tee-tering on the brink of nuclear crisis, Pope Saint John XXIII wrote an Encyclical which not only rejected war but offered a proposal for He addressed his message Pacem in Terris to the en- tire “Catholic world” and indeed “to all men and women of good will”. Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to ad- dress every person living on this planet. In my Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I wrote to all the members of the Church with the aim of encouraging ongoing missionary renewal. In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.
- In 1971, eight years after Pacem in Terris, Bless- ed Pope Paul VI referred to the ecological concern as “a tragic consequence” of unchecked human activity: “Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation”.2He spoke in similar terms to the Food and Agri- culture Organization of the United Nations about the potential for an “ecological catastrophe under the effective explosion of industrial civilization”, and stressed “the urgent need for a radical change in the conduct of humanity”, inasmuch as “the most extraordinary scientific advances, the most amazing technical abilities, the most astonishing economic growth, unless they are accompanied by authentic social and moral progress, will defin- itively turn against man”.
- Saint John Paul II became increasingly con- cerned about this issue. In his first Encyclical he warned that human beings frequently seem “to see no other meaning in their natural environ- ment than what serves for immediate use and consumption”. Subsequently, he would call for a global ecological conversion. At the same time, he noted that little effort had been made to “safe- guard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology”. The destruction of the human environ- ment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement. Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in “lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the estab- lished structures of power which today govern societies”. Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and “take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connec- tion in an ordered system”. Accordingly, our hu- man ability to transform reality must proceed in line with God’s original gift of all that is.
- My predecessor Benedict XVI likewise pro- posed “eliminating the structural causes of the dysfunctions of the world economy and correct- ing models of growth which have proved incapa- ble of ensuring respect for the environment”. He observed that the world cannot be analyzed by isolating only one of its aspects, since “the book of nature is one and indivisible”, and in- cludes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth. It follows that “the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence”. Pope Benedict asked us to recognize that the natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behaviour. The social envi- ronment has also suffered damage. Both are ulti-mately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. We have for- gotten that “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature”. With pa- ternal concern, Benedict urged us to realize that creation is harmed “where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our prop- erty and we use it for ourselves alone. The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves”.United by the same concern
- These statements of the Popes echo the reflections of numerous scientists, philoso- phers, theologians and civic groups, all of which have enriched the Church’s thinking on these questions. Outside the Catholic Church, other Churches and Christian communities – and oth- er religions as well – have expressed deep con- cern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing. To give just one striking example, I would mention the statements made by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bar- tholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion.
- 8. Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in par- ticular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and de- struction of creation”. He has repeatedly stat- ed this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation: “For hu- man beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human be- ings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.
- At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing,an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion”. As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet”.
Here is a quote from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment UNEP, 2005:
“Human activity is putting such a strain on the natural functions of the earth that the stability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted”.