The Vatican (Thursday, 06-18-2015, Gaudium Press) – This morning in the New Synod Hall Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council “Justice and Peace”, introduced Pope Francis’ Encyclical “Laudato si'”, on care for our common home.
The cardinal welcomed the presenters of the document: the Metropolitan of Pergamon, John Zizioulas, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church, who spoke on theology and spirituality, the opening and closing themes of the encyclical; Professor John Schellnhuber, founder and director of the Institute for Climate Impact in Potsdam, Federal Republic of Germany, representing the field of natural sciences, with which the encyclical enters into profound dialogue, and who was recently appointed as an ordinary member of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences; Carolyn Woo, president of Catholic Relief Services and former dean of the Mendoza College of Business of the University of Notre Dame, U.S.A., representing the sectors of economy, finance, trade and commerce, whose responses to the great environmental challenges are crucial; and Valeria Martano, a teacher for 20 years in the outskirts of Rome and witness to human and environmental degradation, as well as to some examples of “best practice”, a sign of hope.
The speakers demonstrated that the Encyclical, from the very beginning, seeks to establish a dialogue with all, both individuals as well as the organisations and institutions that share the same concerns as the Pope, approached from different perspectives, in a global situation that renders them increasingly intertwined and complementary. “This type of dialogue was also employed as the method of preparation that the Holy Father embraced in the writing of the Encyclical”, said Cardinal Turkson. “He relied on a wide range of contributions. Some, in particular those from many Episcopal Conferences from all the continents, are mentioned. … Others who participated in the various phases of this work … remain unnamed. The Lord knows well how to reward their generosity and dedication”.
The Encyclical takes its name from the invocation of St Francis of Assisi: “Laudato si’ mi’ Signore” “Praise be to you, my Lord”. “The reference to St. Francis also indicates the attitude upon which the entire encyclical is based, that of prayerful contemplation, which invites us to look towards the ‘poor one of Assisi” as a source of inspiration” and as the quintessential example of “care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically”.
Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon devoted a large part of his intervention to the ecumenism in “Laudato si'”, and mentioned that in 1989 the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios published an encyclical addressed to all Christians and persons of good will warning of the seriousness of the ecological problem and its theological and spiritual implications, and in the same year he proposed the dedication of 1 September every year to prayer for the environment. This date, according to the Orthodox calendar, is the first day of the ecclesiastical year and now devoted to the environment. The Metropolitan proposed the adoption by all Christians of this day for prayer for the environment.
“I believe that the significance of the papal Encyclical Laudato si’ is not limited to the subject of ecology as such. I see in it an important ecumenical dimension in that it brings the divided Christians before a common task which they must face together. We live at a time when fundamental existential problems overwhelm our traditional divisions and relativise them almost to the point of extinction. Look, for example, at what is happening today in the Middle East: do those who persecute the Christians ask them to which Church or Confession they belong? Christian unity in such cases is de facto realised by persecution and blood – an ecumenism of martyrdom”.
“The threat posed to us by the ecological crisis similarly bypasses or transcends our traditional divisions. The danger facing our common home, the planet on which we live, is described in the Encyclical in a way leaving no doubt about the existential risk we are confronted with. This risk is common to all of us regardless of our ecclesiastical or confessional identities. Equally common must be our effort to prevent the catastrophic consequences of the present situation. Pope Francis’ Encyclical is a call to unity – unity in prayer for the environment, in the same Gospel of Creation, in the conversion of our hearts and our lifestyles to respect and love everyone and everything given to us by God”.
Professor John Schellnhuber went on to note that, from a technological perspective, the deployment of clean energy for all is feasible and is, in fact, “available in abundance. All we have to do is develop the means to properly harvest it and responsibly manage our consumption. While we have been working decade after decade on developing an incredibly expensive fusion reactor, we are already blessed with one that works perfectly well and is free to all of us: the Sun. Photovoltaics, wind and energy from biomass are ultimately all powered by sunlight. These new technologies could unfold potential in poor countries where no grid exists to distribute electricity produced by centralised power plants and where settlements may be too distantly located from one another to make such as system feasible. Just like the evolving use of mobile phones without the previous establishment of landlines, developing countries could leapfrog the fossil episode and enter the age of decentralised renewable energy production without detour”.
“The care for our planet therefore does not have to evolve into a tragedy of the commons. It may well turn into a story of great transformation in which the opportunity was seized to overcome profound inequalities. These disparities arose from the geological coincidence of regional fossil fuel distribution controlled by the few and the concomitant exploitation. Today, the implications of our actions and the pathways are clear. It is solely a question of what future we choose to believe in and to pursue”.
Carolyn Woo, the president of Catholic Relief Services and former dean of the Mendoza College of Business of the University of Notre Dame, U.S.A., as an expert in economics and finance, affirmed that investing in sustainability is “another win-win opportunity for business”, given that “numerous studies have provided estimates of astronomical costs associated with coastal disasters as water levels rise, drought and storms that devastate agricultural production, or loss in productivity due to growing days of extreme heat and health crises due to pollution. … Business can play a role to assist customers to become responsible consumers. Design and production that minimises waste by utilising renewable energy sources, improving efficiencies, enabling recycling, reclamation and re-use provides new opportunities for businesses as these enable consumers to do their part”.
“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 – as he puts it, ‘politics and economics in dialogue for human fulfilment’. Since both public and private sectors have the same goal, and are integrated into the same interconnected web of life, they need to work together in harmony. Sometimes that means business being more accepting of stronger forms of regulation, especially in the financial sector. It also means business getting fully on board with the new Sustainable Development Goals and the need to take action to combat climate change. At the end of the day, business is a human enterprise and must strive for true human development and the common good”.
Finally, the teacher Valeria Martano talked about urban ecology, endangered by pollution, inadequate services and generalised individualism, as a challenge for Christians. The quality of life in the suburbs is poor, she emphasised: “there is a build-up of rage and a sense of exclusion. Too many people are denied the dignity of a house, such as the Roma community, and often we witness the destruction of precarious dwellings without the offer of an alternative. The elderly are ‘expelled’ from the social fabric and located in peripheral institutions. … We encounter violence in some quarters. But we can help live better if we reject this resignation to individualism. … For years, with the Sant’Egidio Community, we have worked to save spaces from pollution. … Starting with the weakest – children, the elderly, the disabled – we reconstruct a human fabric. … Around the weak, it is possible to renew the face of the suburbs, discovering energies that renew human ecology”.
“The Encyclical invites us to put into practice the common good”, she concluded. “The city and the environment are our common home. We often live according to human itineraries: fragmented and contradictory. Each person tries to save himself, in his own corner. Everyone follows his own interest. But there is a ‘community salvation’ that starts from the inclusion of the weak, a valuable resource for an integral ecology”.