Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Sister earth "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". This is the attack of the Encyclical Letter "Laudato sì, on care for our common home", signed by Pope Francis and made public today.
A long encyclical, articulated in six chapters that takes a comprehensive overview on the topic of ecology and on the road to pursue for the respect of Creation. But at the same time, in the wake of John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris, also an appeal "I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home "(n. 3). In the introduction to the text, the pontiff recalled the environmental commitment of his most recent predecessors. From Paul VI’s address to FAO to John Paul II, who in his first encyclical, "human beings frequently seem “to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption”. Subsequently, he would call for a global ecological conversion"(n. 5) ending with Benedict XVI. In fact Francis takes a central concept of his text from the Pope: "The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. We have forgotten that “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature'"(n. 6). This does not just concern Christians: "
Outside the Catholic Church, other Churches and Christian communities – and other religions as well – have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing "(n. 7). In particular the Pope points to "dear Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion" (n. 7).
The “attractive and compelling figure” of St. Francis of Assisi, a instead should inspire and motivate us, as illustrated by the title. “He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace " (n. 10). With this background, the Pope appealed: "We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all " (n. 14).
In the first chapter - "What is happening to our common home" - Francis presents a detailed map of the damage caused to the environment by man. It begins with a warning: "Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it causes harm to the world and to the quality of life of much of humanity" (n. 18). There are positive signs: "Following a period of irrational confidence in progress and human abilities, some sectors of society are now adopting a more critical approach" (n. 19), but this is not enough. We must "become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it" (n. 19).
The first damage is pollution: "Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths". (n. 20). To the point that "the earth, our home, seems to have become more and more in a huge garbage dump" (n. 21). These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish" (n. 22). The second point is global warming: "Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or, at least, the human causes which produce or aggravate it"(n. 23). On the third point is access to safe drinking water "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 (n. 30).
Then comes the protection of biodiversity: the vast majority of species "The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right"(n. 33). All these factors are closely linked to the deterioration of the quality of human life and social degradation: "Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in" (n. 44).
The Pope then deals with the theme global inequality: "In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet" (n. 48). He adds: "It needs to be said that, generally speaking, there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded. Yet they are the majority of the planet’s population, billions of people"(n. 49). The answer to their problems cannot be just proposing "a reduction in the birth rate [...] To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues" (n. 50).
In light of this situation, Francis decided to devote a paragraph to the weakness of the reactions of the international community. The situations cited by the pope "have caused sister earth, along with all the abandoned of our world, to cry out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years"(n. 53). That is why "the establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable" (n. 53). The current system is in fact unsuitable: "It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected". This causes Francis to ask, "what would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?" (N. 57).
In the second chapter - "The Gospel of Creation" - Francis analyzes the foundation beliefs of the Christian faith for Creation: "
although this Encyclical welcomes dialogue with everyone so that together we can seek paths of liberation, I would like from the outset to show how faith convictions can offer Christians, and some other believers as well, ample motivation to care for nature and for the most vulnerable of their brothers and sisters"(n. 64). The accounts of creation in Genesis are the first "brick" of the chapter and "suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself" (No. . 66). According to the Bible, "according to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin"(n. 66).
The Pope wants to then clarify a distorted reading of Genesis: "the charge that Judaeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants man “dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church. Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures (n. 67).
This misinterpretation is corrected by the Bible itself. From the story of Cain and Abel to that of Noah, the only just man who saves the world, are all warnings: " When all these relationships are neglected, when justice no longer dwells in the land, the Bible tells us that life itself is endangered"(n. 70). Similarly it is pointed to in the laws of Shabbat and the rest it gives to the land and to the animals; the singing of Psalms that invite man to praise God the Creator; the writings of the prophets, which invite us "to regain strength in difficult moments contemplating the powerful God who created the universe" (n. 73). In short, the Pope writes, "The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality"(n. 75).
All this of course passes through the incarnation and the infinite love of Christ towards men: "
In the Christian understanding of the world, the destiny of all creation is bound up with the mystery of Christ, present from the beginning "(Col 1:16)" (n. 99). In short, concludes the second chapter, “the creatures of this world no longer appear to us under merely natural guise because the risen One is mysteriously holding them to himself and directing them towards fullness as their end. The very flowers of the field and the birds which his human eyes contemplated and admired are now imbued with his radiant presence"(n. 100).