Stewardship for God's creation: the Christian landscape behind Pope Francis' new encyclical

Stewardship for God's creation: the Christian landscape behind Pope Francis' new encyclical

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.- Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on ecology will draw from decades of Catholic social thought on God’s creation in light of new perspectives on environmental problems, a prominent magazine has said ahead of the encyclical’s release.

“Believers have an additional reason to be good stewards of the gift of creation, because they know that it is a gift from God,” the Rome-based magazine La Civilta Cattolica said in an editorial dated June 27.

The encyclical will be published June 18. Its title, “Laudato Sii,” means “Praised be You.” It is taken from St. Francis of Assisi’s medieval Italian prayer “Canticle of the Sun,” which praises God through elements of creation like Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and “our sister Mother Earth.”

The Jesuit-published La Civilta Cattolica reflected on the encyclical’s importance and on the challenge the Pope faces in appreciating the scientific consensus on topics like climate change.

“The world’s leading religious leader will draw upon his faith, upon the teaching of the Church, and upon the best information and advice available, demonstrating how each of us can manage, gather and sift the information, to judge, to decide and, finally, to act,” the editorial said. “His goal is not to speculate nor to support this or that theory, but to invite people of goodwill to consider thoroughly their responsibility for future generations, and to act accordingly.”

Debates about environmental responsibilities have consequences for the well-being of humanity, La Civilta Cattolica said. They are not simply campaigns to save a rare animal or plant, though these can be important. Rather, the debate is about how to ensure that “hundreds of millions of people have clean water to drink and clean air to breathe.”

“This is a serious moral responsibility which we can no longer remove ourselves from. Failure to respond would be a sin of omission,” the editorial said.

This responsibility is linked to Christian thought, it noted.

“For the believer, ours is a ‘divine environment,’ namely a world interpreted as a place of union with God,” said the editorial. “Pope Francis’ commitment urges us on towards an ecological spirituality, towards a spiritual and sacramental life which is not divorced from the fact that we live in the created world.”

The publication rejected any claims that these environmental concerns turn the Church into a “green NGO.” It also countered claims that such concerns distract from the task of saving souls.

“Some may think that faith is an optional add-on to ecological commitment. That is like saying that the foundation is an optional add-on for a building,” it continued, saying that concern for human and environmental ecology shows “a fundamental dimension of faith” and emerges from the Church’s social doctrine.

On the topic of climate change, La Civilta Cattolica said it is “not contested” that the planet is warming. It cited the “very stark” November 2014 Synthesis Report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Just like most of us, Pope Francis faces the challenge, in preparing his encyclical, of properly appreciating the scientific consensus about climate change, its causes and consequences, and the needed remedies,” the magazine continued.

At the same time, it said that even when those in environmental debates do not agree on some research findings, there are problems that are “obvious and need the attention of the faithful.” These include water pollution, “monocultures” that harm the ground and people’s livelihoods, and the extinction of plant and animal species.  

The editorial countered the vision of “a moment of doom” in which human greed, stupidity, carelessness and pride have caused irreversible damage leading to self-destruction.

Rather, it suggested that this moment is an opportunity.

“For the first time, in a mature way, we have to exercise a common responsibility for the earth, our common home,” La Civilta Cattolica said.

The editorial noted the encyclical’s importance in view of upcoming global events like the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, the expected U.N. General Assembly agreements on sustainable development goals for 2030, and the Climate Change Conference that will meet in Paris in December.

For decades, Popes have shown Catholic concern for the environment.

Pope Paul VI’s 1971 apostolic letter “Octogesima Adveniens” discussed environmental degradation as “a wide-ranging social problem which concerns the entire human family.”

St. John Paul II’s 1997 encyclical “Sollicitudo rei socialis” considered the biblical roots of ecological questions. He previously warned of the misuse of non-renewable resources and of the risk that industrialization can have on the environment and on quality of life. His 1991 encyclical “Centesimus Annus” criticized the “arbitrary use of the earth” and urged the need for man to be “a co-operator with God in the work of creation.” He discussed ozone layer depletion in 1990 message for the World Day of Peace and called for the “right to a safe environment.”

Benedict XVI, who was nicknamed “the Green Pope,” spoke of the realization that “something is wrong in our relationship with nature.” He said that the earth “has a dignity of its own and that we must follow its directives.” In message for the 2010 World Day of Peace he lamented problems like desertification, deforestation, agricultural depletion, and climate change. In a 2009 general audience, he said, “The Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere.”

Pope Francis has spoken on environmental topics before, La Civilta Cattolica noted.

During his inaugural homily of March 19, 2013, the Pope said that one of the services of the Bishop of Rome is to “protect the whole of creation.” In a January 2015 press conference on his flight to the Philippines, the Pope lamented the abuse of nature.

On April 22, 2015, World Earth Day, he used his general audience to encourage everyone to “look at the world through the eyes of the Creator” and to see the Earth as “a garden to cultivate.” He rejected environmental exploitation and called for the conservation of “the divine harmony between beings and creation.”

 

Tags: Pope Francis, Environment, Encyclical