CHURCH’S PREFERENTIAL OPTION FOR THE POOR – Care for Creation and Stewardship of the Earth (Part V)

Fr Leonard E. Dollentas

The growing awareness that it is urgently necessary to sustainably manage our planet’s resources and ecosystems probably first reached the general public at the beginning of 20th century. In 1971, in the Apostolic Letter of Pope Paul VI Octogesima Adveniens, the Catholic Church imploringly called the faithful to reflect on the degradation of the earth and its impact on the future generation: “Man is suddenly becoming aware that by an ill-considered exploitation of nature he risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation…creating an environment for tomorrow which may well be intolerable. This is a wide-ranging social problem which concerns the entire human family” (No 21).

The words of Paul VI were deepened in 2008 by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who said: “Perhaps reluctantly we come to acknowledge that there are also scars which mark the surface of our earth: erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world’s mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption…How can what is ‘good’ appear so threatening?” (World Youth Day 2008)

The Church teachings on care for creation is prayerfully encouraging all people, that respect for human life extends to the respect for all creation, and we must re-engage with the life systems of the planet and accept environmental responsibility, and to care responsibly for creation.  As this is a call for all people, the poor can also response to this call of the church to take care of the environment so uncaringly destroyed in the world.

The Poor and the Call to Care for Creation

Each of the groups of the recipients of the boat Program situated in different areas were given the opportunity to undergo a workshop on ecological care awareness and stewardship of nature. The core learning outcomes of the workshop centers on the given responsibility to all to care for creation.

The workshop made them reflect that creation provides us with the physical fabric of our lives; the natural environment gives us the materials we use every day. Even the food for our tables, the material for the boats given to them, for the clothes and the materials to build the houses and churches. God’s nature and creation is also a place where people have experienced a great closeness with God through its beauty and wonder. Creation is a gift from God and provides us with these things, the basics for our lives, yet it can so easily and so often be taken for granted. In the workshop we facilitated we welcomed interactions and views and experiences on                                                  environmental issues such as:

– logging in growth forests and mangrove

– consequences of trash along the sea lines and oceans

– Illegal and destructive fishing methods

We lead them into a reflective realization how environmental damage has exacerbated due to these practices. Caring for the environment can be translated into a form of justice.  Justice in this sense means honoring the integrity of creation, and striving for fairness within God’s creation. When we act in solidarity with creation, when serve and keep the earth, we embrace that justice.

It is worth noting that these events happened in 2015, the year Pope Francis released an encyclical on ecology entitled, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home. In this encyclical the Pope mentioned our responsibility to deal with poverty and the environmental issues: “Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” (no 139)

Response of the Poor and Call to Action

After the Care for Creation and Stewardship of the Earth workshop, the boat recipients were encouraged to design action plans to return to God His creation that has been abused and destroyed. This is done in the form of prayer sessions and sharing of ideas to form actions. During this forming of stewardship solutions, they revealed that they were partly responsible for the destruction of mangroves in their areas.  Their destruction of mangroves, which was intensified by the typhoon Yolanda was sadly and regrettably recalled by the communities.

A mangrove is a shrub or small tree that grows in coastal saline water.  They are salt tolerant trees. The locals used them for their house building needs and fire woods. Historically, the coastline of Samar is rich in mangrove forests. Such forests are considered the habitat of sea water creatures including variety of fishes. Those fishes are source of food and income for lowly fishermen.

The communities came up with these feasible and meaningful form of stewardship:

– plant trees to bring back God’s creation that has been destroyed

– care for what has been plated and other forms of nature

– eradication of illegal ways of fishing

– practice the concepts of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover

– cooperation with other Christians and Muslims on care of creation

The local government was more than willing to help by providing the program with seedlings. Out concentration was on mangrove planting. This is to strengthen the degraded mangrove forests along coastlines and make coastal communities less vulnerable to future destruction of more intense typhoons or extreme weather occurrences and the effects of climate change.


The experience of the option for the poor is test of how just our society is and how our church embodies the social teachings and call for compassion for the poor. It calls all of us to right relationships, and it does this by placing the poor and the powerless at the center — giving them hope that God did not abandon them, that they can accomplish hope towards recovery by themselves with dignity, that they can experience liberation along with others who may not share their faith. Preferential option for the poor presents a holistic vision both material and transcendent dimensions of salvation (Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi no 27, 29). As a response, the poor are invited to be grateful to God by inviting them into a journey of stewardship and care for God’s creation.