POPE’S PEACE MESSAGE – Ecological conversion

– FAUSTO GOMEZ OP

After presenting and reflecting on Pope Francis’ 2020 Peace Message  for the World Day of Peace (January 1, 2020) in a previous column, we now concentrate and expand number 4 of this message entitled “Peace, a Journey of Ecological Conversion.”

With all men and women of goodwill and other believers, Christians are contributing their share to the growing awareness and commitment to responsible and respectful global climate change. The more explicit Magisterium of the Catholic Church on the matter began with St Paul VI (Octogesima Adveniens), was continued by St John Paul II (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis) and Benedict XVI (Spe Salvi and Caritas in Veritate), and reached its climax up to now with the pacesetting encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ On our Common Home.  LS’ is considered by many as “the first great ecological pronouncement in the history of the Church.” Among its innovative points is the concept of integral ecology.  In his 2020 Peace Message, Pope Francis underscores, with integral ecology, ecological reconciliation.

Integral ecology includes reconciliation with nature, with God’s creation, which is our common home. Human beings are part of the universe and they have to listen to the voice of nature, care for it, and contemplate its beauty and mystery. The natural resources, the many forms of life, the earth itself have been entrusted to human persons “to till and keep” (Gen 1:15); Pope Francis, 2020 Peace Message, 4).

ECOLOGICAL RECONCILIATION

Human beings are asked to respect creation  by working against abuses on our natural resources. They are called not to exploit or destroy but to “protect and preserve” nature. Acknowledgment of failures or sins against God’s creation calls for conversion. There is an urgent need of ecological conversion: being sorry for maltreating nature and doing something positive against its abuses by men and women.

Following Popes John Pail II and Benedict XVI, Pope Francis reminds us of this important point: integral ecology includes necessarily human ecology. Caring for all living beings underscores caring for human beings. Caring for the life of animal species and their diversity entails caring for the life of human beings from the moment of conception. For most believers and others, human ecology has priority over environmental ecology.

Ecological reconciliation or conversion, Pope Francis explains, “must be understood in an integral way, as a transformation of how we relate to our sisters and brothers, to other living beings, to creation in all its rich variety and to the Creator who is the origin and source of all life.” Perhaps, the most innovative point of the 53rd Message for the 2020 World Day of Peace refers to ecological conversion.

Integral conversion comprises reconciliation with God, within ourselves, with others, with the poor in particular, and with the whole creation. In Laudate Si’ (LS’), Pope Francis points out repeatedly the close link between the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor (LS’, 49; cf. Ibid, 10, 91, 94). This connection appears sidelined if not wholly forgotten by some gurus and activists of climate change (converted by some in an apparently excluding and reductionist ideology): the relationship between human-made ecological problems, which are truly terrible, and the poor of the world. Truly enough, the ecological crisis is tied up with the social crisis.

With due respect, let me say this: some politicians, extreme feminists and others, seem to connect the climate change ideology to the gender ideology: they tell us that we have to care for women and girls, who are “the most vulnerable and also a transforming power” (Carolina Schmidt, President of the UN Climate Change Conference COP 25, Crónica, EL MUNDO, Madrid December 16, 2019). Certainly, some high profile personalities are helping us become more keenly aware and concerned about global climate change issues. But some active promoters against global warming are already telling us that our world has too many mouths to feed, and that this has a negative impact on good climate change. Their solution? Fewer children. Some among us thought – wrongly, it appears – that the Malthusian solution was already a discarded argument. Pope Francis asks all for a new way of looking at God’s creation: “accept differences, respect and celebrate life – the life we have received and share – and seek living conditions and models of society that favor the continued flourishing of life and the development of the common home of the entire human family” (Message, 4).

A few weeks ago, Pope Francis surprised more than some when he said that a new number will be added to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: a number on ecological sin and on ecocide. In the Final Document of the Pan-Amazon Region Synod of Bishops celebrated in Rome (October 6-27, 2019), we read: Ecological sin may be defined as “an action or omission against God, against the neighbor, the community and the environment, which is manifested in acts and habits of contamination and destruction of environmental harmony as well as the transgression against the principles of interdependence and the rupture of nets of solidarity among creatures, and against the virtue of justice.”

ECOLOGICAL RECONCILIATION TOWARDS A HOPEFUL PEACE

As we know well, participants from nearly 200 nations attended the Climate Change Conference UN COP25 held in Madrid (December 2019). Generally, it appears that the global conference was partly a failure due to disagreements on some major concerns. Nevertheless, it issued some helpful agreed upon declarations calling “for greater ambition in cutting planet-heating greenhouse gases and in helping poor countries suffering the effects of climate change.” (Here the poor are all who are poor – women as well as men, and children.)

Obviously, there is too much talk on climate change and the deleterious effects of global warming. Likewise, there is little unanimous global practice of positive resolutions. Certainly, as Pope Francis suggests, the journey of peace to hopeful and integral reconciliation requires patience and trust. And, I wish to add, it demands, too, conversion to global human values, to a virtuous lifestyle – simpler and more just, less consumeristic and more sharing, and less “holier and wiser than thou” and compassionate with those among us who are marginalized. It is to be noted that reconciliation begins with each one of us. Personal reconciliation is primarily interior transformation, conversion of heart.

We do not own the earth, we are part of it and therefore obliged to care for it and improve it for our and future generations. Certainly, the climate change presents before us huge problems, although they are not the only ones. Moreover, there is general agreement that many of these problems are caused by man’s inhumanity to man and to nature. We have to admit, furthermore, that not all scientists agree as to the magnitude of these problems, nor there is agreement as to how to solve them. As in many other questions of life, it appears that “money talks.”

I wish to quote provocative and thoughtful words of a well-known intellectual and renowned writer. I believe it is good and healthy to ponder upon them. The challenging words:  “Our age is not disposed towards the only conversion that could detain the degradation of the planet, which is the conversion that stops the degradation of souls…: only a spiritual conversion may inaugurate the kind of virtuous life needed, which right away would not need a car (not even an electric car) to travel, just a mystical journey.”  (Juan Manuel de Prada, December 11, 2019 in Religión en Libertad).

A CHRISTIAN’S ROLE

Guided by Sacred Scriptures and Christian Tradition, by the magisterium of the social teachings of the Church, Christians must work for integral reconciliation and development towards a just social order, which includes eco-justice. They are asked by their faith in Christ, to be responsible and active participants in the promotion of God’s creation, of the common good. Our impeccable model is Jesus Christ, God’s Son and savior. The Pope states: “For Christians, it requires that the effect of their encounter with Jesus Christ becomes evident in their relationship with the world around them” (Message, 4). For believers, the faith encounter with Christ leads to the Sacrament of Reconciliation – to the needed forgiveness.

The Philippine Bishops have issued an excellent encyclical on climate change. Some of their words: “Climate-related disasters threaten us all. The reality of the climate crisis, proven by the catastrophic impact of typhoons and other human induced-disasters, has made us aware that the time to act is now, not tomorrow. We must activate climate action on behalf of the voiceless people and the planet” (CBCP, Ecological Conversion, Manila, July 16, 2019).

If you want peace, Pope Paul VI said, work for justice. If you want peace, Pope John Paul II advised, work for justice in solidarity. Quoting St John of the Cross, Pope Francis affirms that “we obtain all that we hope for” (cf. Message, 5). The mystic from Fontiveros (Avila), wrote that to obtain what we hope for, we must fix our eyes on the God of hope. Hope in God entails a persistent hope in eternal life. What moves us and wins is enduring and trusting hope. This hope prays to God, the Creator of the world, and the savior of humankind. With faith in God the Creator and in our humanity redeemed by Christ, our deep longing for peace will become a reality. For sure, hope does not deceive (Rom 5:5).

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