During the Pope’s trip to Benin in Africa there have been a few statements relevant to the environment. Most of the message of the trip has centered on “hope”, as well as moral and spiritual matters. Pope Benedict XVI insisted throughout his trip, and especially in his Apostolic Exhortation Africae munus, that Africa is a sign of hope for the world: ” A precious treasure is to be found in the soul of Africa, where I perceive a “spiritual ‘lung’ for a humanity that appears to be in a crisis of faith and hope”. But along with hope, “reconciliation” has featured preeminently as a key concept for Pope Benedict XVI, and this has clear connections to the environment in the context of reconciliation theology. Lets focus first on the main environmental themes of the Apostolic Exhortation:
1. Justice and natural resources: “The plundering of the goods of the earth by a minority to the detriment of entire peoples is unacceptable, because it is immoral. Justice obliges us to “render to each his due”: ius suum unicuique tribuere… If justice is to prevail in all areas of life, private and public, economic and social, it needs to be sustained by subsidiarity and solidarity, and still more, to be inspired by charity. 24“
2. Human ecology and the role of women: ” The Church counts on you to create a “human ecology” through your sympathetic love, your friendly and thoughtful demeanour, and finally through mercy, values that you know how to instil in your children, values that the world so badly needs. In this way, by the wealth of your specifically feminine gifts, you will foster the reconciliation of individuals and communities.”59
3. Nature and African culture: “In the African worldview, life is perceived as something that embraces and includes ancestors, the living and those yet to be born, the whole of creation and all beings: those that speak and those that are mute, those that think and those lacking thought. The visible and invisible universe is regarded as a living-space for human beings, but also as a space of communion where past generations invisibly flank present generations, themselves the mothers of future generations. This great openness of heart and spirit in the African tradition predisposes you, dear brothers and sisters, to hear and to receive Christ’s message” 69.
4. Respect for Creation: ” God has given Africa important natural resources… Some business men and women, governments and financial groups are involved in programmes of exploitation which pollute the environment and cause unprecedented desertification. Serious damage is done to nature, to the forests, to flora and fauna, and countless species risk extinction. All of this threatens the entire ecosystem and consequently the survival of humanity. I call upon the Church in Africa to encourage political leaders to protect such fundamental goods as land and water for the human life of present and future generations and for peace between peoples.” 80. On this theme there was also a specific mention of the role of deacons for protecting nature.
The main theme however, concerned reconciliation. Though no specific reference was made to the theology of reconciliation and the 4 ruptures, or the reconciliation of creation, much was said about reconciliation itself. The fundamental principle, that there can be no reconciliation of humans with creation, with others and with themselves unless there is a reconciliation with God was loud and clear. At the end of this post are the key passages of reconciliation from the Exhortation. One key conclusion, that “Evangelization today takes the name of reconciliation” reflects the central role given to reconciliation for the future of Africa.
Much later in November, the Pope made a specific mention about climate change, as a “worrying and complex” (see below) phenomenon, and wishing the UN Convention well in Durban. The African Bishops responded to the Pope’s call in a letter, but seem to rely on the IPCC for scientific and policy information (such as 1.5 C as a temperature increase limit) which could present problems given the loss of credibility and flaws that experts have been pointing out about the UN’s scientific organism – see here. The Pope as usual stays away from the technical issues and calls for awareness and concern:
The Convention of the United Nations Organization on climate change and the Kyoto Protocol will begin tomorrow in Durban, South Africa. I hope that all the members of the international community will agree on a responsible, credible and supportive response to this worrying and complex phenomenon, taking into account the needs of the poorest populations and of the generations to come.
Reconciliation Passages in Africae munus
19. “Reconciliation is a pre-political concept and a pre-political reality, and for this very reason it is of the greatest importance for the task of politics itself. Unless the power of reconciliation is created in people’s hearts, political commitment to peace lacks its inner premise. At the Synod, the Pastors of the Church strove for that inner purification of man which is the essential prior condition for building justice and peace. But this purification and inner development towards true humanity cannot exist without God.”
20. It is God’s grace that gives us a new heart and reconciles us with him and with one another. Christ re-established humanity in the Father’s love. Reconciliation thus springs from this love; it is born of the Father’s initiative in restoring his relationship with humanity, a relationship broken by human sin. In Jesus Christ, “in his life and ministry, but especially in his death and resurrection, the Apostle Paul saw God the Father reconciling the world (all things in heaven and on earth) to himself, discounting the sins of humanity (cf. 2 Cor 5:19; Rom 5:10; Col 1:21-22). Paul saw God the Father reconciling Jews and Gentiles to himself, creating one new man through the Cross (cf. Eph 2:15; 3:6). Thus, the experience of reconciliation establishes communion on two levels: communion between God and humanity; and – since the experience of reconciliation also makes us (as a reconciled humanity) ‘ambassadors of reconciliation’ – communion among men.”