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.

 

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