Archbishop J, What does the Church teach about our care for the environment?
Pope Francis begins his encyclical on the environment with the words Laudato Si’(LS).
“LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore”– “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of his 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 us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”(LS, 1).
The Holy Father continues: “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. 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 up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters” (LS, 2).
Our common home
In his encyclical Pope Francis gives us a new image for the environment. He calls the earth our common home. Thus changing for ever our image and relationship with it. How do you treat your home? Do you litter it? Do you allow harmful things to grow in your house or yard? Do you pollute the drains or throw plastic in the canal? Do you use toxins in your kitchen? Or paint your walls with dangerous chemicals? No, we care for our home and are very careful to ensure it is clean and safe and welcoming to all who visit us.
If we know how to care for our home, why do we treat the earth, our common home so badly? We throw garbage on the streets and in our waterways. We use harmful chemicals and dump toxins in her. We over fish her waters and release harmful gases in her air.
The AEC Bishops in their document, Declaration on Climate Change (DCC), speak to the issue of human ecology: “… humankind has and is changing the created order, and climate change is the manifestation of human interaction with and disruption of a natural order. Human activity – primarily the way we use energy, conduct industry, farm the land, and use the trees – has changed the composition of the atmosphere, causing changes in the earth’s retention of solar energy. This simple change leads to profound and complex changes as weather patterns shift and the world we live in changes before us” (DCC, 4).
The Bishops continue: “Changes in temperature and rainfall negatively impact the productivity of agriculture, storms become more frequent, more devastating, such as Katrina, Ivan, Sandy and the devastating rains that struck the Eastern Caribbean in 2013. We have also been experiencing prolonged periods of drought. As the glaciers and permafrost melt and new vistas open to the poles, sea levels rise and reclaim land. The patterns of animal migration and diseases shift with surprising results. Corals die, and ecosystems change forever. The weather patterns become more extreme, hotter in some places and colder in the extremes of winter” (DCC, 4). We have also had Irma and Maria in 2017.
Pope Francis reminds us of our duty to future generations:
“Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realise that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others. … Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us” (LS, 159).
September 1 is world day of prayer for the care of creation, a significant day for us in the Caribbean. The AEC Bishops in their Declaration remind us that the Caribbean is the second most vulnerable area when it comes to climate change. If the sea rises because of melting ice, our hotels and beaches and the tourism industry become vulnerable. The last 17 years have been the hottest years in recorded history and the temperature is rising. Pope Francis and the AEC Bishops remind us that we humans have contributed to this.
A change in lifestyle has become necessary. We need to reduce the use of plastic and eliminate the use of Styrofoam; reduce our use of electricity and water and our carbon footprint. Our prayer for the environment is a recognition of the conversion we need. Let us all do our part to treat our common home with great respect.
“I/We Pledge to:
Key Message: The Earth is our common home and we must care for it. This requires conversion.
Action step: Take the pledge, read the two AEC statements on climate change http://www.aecbishops.org
Scripture: Gn 1:1-31Gn 2:15; Rom 8:19-21