Love for neighbor includes care for the planet, Vatican official says

Ice melting environment climate change via UnSplash CNA 6 16 15 Unsplash.

Taking care of the planet is ultimately about justice for the poor and about loving one's neighbor as one's self, a Vatican official has told CNA.

Fr. Joshtrom Kureethadam told CNA Sept. 3 that "we need to care for creation because poor people are all being affected by [changes in climate]."

"And it is really Catholic tradition, Christian tradition, that in the poor we see Christ. Matthew 25:35 onwards [says]: I was hungry, I was naked, I was in prison, I was a foreigner and you welcomed me," he said.

Kureethadam has been coordinator of the "ecology and creation" sector at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development since 2017. He is a university professor and the author of multiple books on creation and theology.

He told CNA that in the West, the effects of climate change are not really noticed, and might just bring something like a flood or hurricane once in a while, while in other places in the world the effects are already very grave.

"We don't really understand climate change because we don't live with it. But for the majority of people it's already a reality," he explained.

"If we really love our neighbor – the second of the two great commandments: love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself – we have to be concerned about this."

He said another reason Catholics should pay attention to climate change is because it is a question of justice.

Poorer countries are disproportionately affected by climate change, while it is wealthier nations that are emitting the major part of greenhouse gases. He said, "it's caused mainly by the rich world, but it's being paid for by the poor."

So, it takes on an ethical dimension, he said. "If we really want to practice justice, we have to change our lifestyle, question our lifestyle."

"We don't really realize the game we are playing, the risks we are taking," he argued. "And not the risks we are taking in the abstract, the risks we are taking for our own children, for their children."

Kureethadam, who is from Kerala and is a priest of the Salesians of Don Bosco, will speak during an ocean stewardship interfaith webinar Sept. 5.

The webinar is being organized by Plastic Bank, a group which fights plastic pollution in the ocean by introducing recycling infrastructures into the poorest regions of the world.

With the processes in place, people can exchange plastic material for cash, digital currency, healthcare coverage, school tuition, and more. Collected plastic is then recycled into new products.

There is also a Plastic Bank bonus to ensure both full and part-time recyclers are guaranteed a living wage.

Kureethadam said he likes the initiative because "they see the justice aspect of it... they are empowering poor communities."

"The real momentum is coming from the grassroots, and that's how God works." He thinks "simple people, young people, poor people, they will lead the change and what we need to do is stand by them. And that's what Plastic Bank is doing."

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The priest also praised another Plastic Bank initiative, that of turning discarded plastic into rosaries. This way, he said, "the same plastic which is an image of degradation becomes an instrument of prayer, it becomes holy."

The webinar will focus on stewardship of the oceans. Kureethadam explained that the oceans "are really vital for life," saying "the state of the ocean is really worrying."

He noted that plastic is just one of several big problems, and said if the ocean continues to be polluted at the same rate, it is projected that in 30 years there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.

He also explained that most plastic in the ocean is no longer visible but has become "micro-plastic." This is then consumed by animals in the food chain and can make its way back to humans.

It is still being studied, but it may begin to cause cancer or other illnesses in humans, he said.

Kureethadam admitted he finds the word "environment" superficial; "scientists use it a lot, but I think it doesn't really capture the depth of what we mean by creation care."

Creation is God's creation, he emphasized. In Genesis, God tells Adam to "cultivate and take care of this garden," he said. "It is the very first commandment we have received from God."

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"We cannot afford to manipulate it or disfigure it or abuse it," he continued. "It would be a sin."

He said he thinks sometimes people overlook John 1:14: "the greatest truth of Christianity, that God became one of us, the Word became flesh, became flesh on this planet," he stated. "And we say that with the Incarnation the entire planet is sanctified."

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