CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 20 April 2019

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Encyclical calls everyone to account for wellbeing of the planet and each other

Hong Kong (SE): Pope Francis’ eagerly-awaited papal encyclical, Laudato Si’: on the Care of Our Common Home, was finally, officially, presented to the world at the Vatican on June 18 by Peter Cardinal Turkson of Ghana, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, reported Vatican Radio.

The 184-page encyclical, which has been published in eight languages, focusses on the idea of integral ecology, connecting care of the natural world with justice for the poorest and most vulnerable people, highlighting not only the inter-connectedness of all created life, but recognising how political, economic, social and religious values and decisions are interrelated and impact the way people live with one another on the planet and use its resources.

Pope Francis makes it clear that the encyclical is not limited to Catholics, but addressed to “every person living on this planet.”

He says that the earth “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.”

The pope says that only by radically reshaping our relationships with God, with our neighbours and with the natural world, can we hope to tackle the threats facing our planet today. He stresses that science is the best tool by which we can listen to the cry of the earth, while dialogue and education are the two keys that can “help us to escape the spiral of self-destruction which currently engulfs us.”

The pope also takes aim at the powers-that-be in business and politics when he notes, “The earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production. The loss of forests and woodlands entails the loss of species which may constitute extremely important resources in the future, not only for food but also for curing disease and other uses. Different species contain genes which could be key resources in years ahead for meeting human needs and regulating environmental problems.”

He warns, “Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change … unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world.”

Leading German climate scientist, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, joined Cardinal Turkson at the presentation of the encyclical and showed how the use of fossil fuels over the past century has damaged the fragile equilibrium of the planet, reported Radio Vatican. 

He noted that global warming of just a few degrees may not sound like much, but using the human body to illustrate his point, he said, “You all have a body temperature of slightly below 37 degrees Centigrade….add two degrees and you get a fever, add five degrees and you will be dead…this is how climate change operates on the earth’s system…”

He added that the problem is not over-population in the poorest countries, but over-consumption by the few richest people who own most of the world’s wealth.

In Laudato Sí, Pope Francis points out: “To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimise the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalised, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption. 

H further addes,“A misguided anthropocentrism leads to a misguided lifestyle. In the apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, I noted that the practical relativism typical of our age is ‘even more dangerous than doctrinal relativism.’ When human beings place themselves at the centre, they give absolute priority to immediate convenience and all else becomes relative. Hence we should not be surprised to find, in conjunction with the omnipresent technocratic paradigm and the cult of unlimited human power, the rise of a relativism which sees everything as irrelevant unless it serves one’s own immediate interests. There is a logic in all this whereby different attitudes can feed on one another, leading to environmental degradation and social decay.”

Metropolitan John Zizioulas from Pergamon, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church, said, “We must recognise and repent of our ecological sins” and he added, “I believe the significance of the papal encyclical is not limited to the subject of ecology… I see …an important ecumenical dimension….in that it brings divided Christians before a common task that they must face together”

Pope Francis also highlights the problem of water availability and castigated those who would take advantage of this for their own gain: “… the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatise this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights.”
The encyclical, points out that, “Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water… This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor. But water continues to be wasted, not only in the developed world but also in developing countries which possess it in abundance. This shows that the problem of water is partly an educational and cultural issue, since there is little awareness of the seriousness of such behaviour within a context of great inequality.”

Pope Francis also expresses concern that “greater scarcity of water will lead to an increase in the cost of food and the various products which depend on its use. Some studies warn that an acute water shortage may occur within a few decades unless urgent action is taken” and sounds a warning: “It is also conceivable that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century.”

Reacting to some of the criticism levelled at the encyclical, even before its publication, Carolyn Woo, head of Catholic Relief Services and former dean of the Business School at Notre Dame University, said big business must recognise its potential to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

“We can clearly see that the pope’s message is based on solid science… for business which is so big on analytics, it’s important to open our minds and our hearts…we cannot dismiss this just because we don’t like the message,” she said.

Woo pointed out, “This encyclical certainly affirms the important role that business will need to play, but Pope Francis is clear that we need partnerships between public and private sectors … At the end of the day, business is a human enterprise and must strive for true human development and the common good.”

Laudato Si’ addresses the human ecology of day-to-day living saying, “Authentic development includes efforts to bring about an integral improvement in the quality of human life and this entails considering the setting in which people live their lives. These settings influence the way we think, feel and act. In our rooms, our homes, our workplaces and neighbourhoods, we use our environment as a way of expressing our identity. We make every effort to adapt to our environment, but when it is disorderly, chaotic or saturated with noise and ugliness, such over-stimulation makes it difficult to find ourselves integrated and happy.”

It also points to the relationship between human life and the moral law, and explains the direct relationship of the human body with the environment and other living beings. It says, “Acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.”

Pope Francis asks, “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up? This question not only concerns the environment in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal.”

The pope urges all people to “come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us… May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.”

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