06/18/2015, 00.00
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Encyclical: the concept of integral ecology is at the core of the document, says Card Turkson

For Metropolitan Zizioulas, "the significance of the Papal Encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ is not limited to the subject of ecology as such” but has “an important ecumenical dimension”. This “existential ecumenism” reflects “the effort to face together the most profound existential problems,” and “brings divided Christians before a common task which they must face together”.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Card Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, noted that “At the heart of the process of conversion and of hope in a renewed future, Pope Francis puts the concept of integral ecology at the centre of the Encyclical as a paradigm able to articulate the fundamental relationships of the person with God, with him/herself, with other human beings, with creation.”

Together with Metropolitan of Pergamon John Zizioulas, who represented the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church Orthodox, Card Turkson presented ‘Laudate si,’ ‘Praised be to you,’ at the Vatican today.

The director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr Federico Lombardi, said that encyclical was reworked. “For about a month, the pope worked on the promulgation of the encyclical together with the bishops of the whole world, by sending material via email” at its various stages of development.

For Cardinal Turkson, who wrote the first draft of the document as Pope Francis himself noted, “When we speak of the ‘environment,’ what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it. Getting to the reasons why a given area is polluted requires a study of the workings of society, its economy, its behaviour patterns, the ways it grasps reality, and so forth. Given the scale of change, it is no longer possible to find a specific, discrete answer for each part of the problem. It is essential to seek comprehensive solutions that consider the interactions within natural systems themselves and with social systems. We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis that is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the underprivileged, and at the same time protecting nature" (n. 139).

He went on to say, "Although each chapter will have its own subject and specific approach, it will also take up and re-examine important questions previously dealt with. This is particularly the case with a number of themes which will reappear as the Encyclical unfolds. As examples, I will point to the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet, the conviction that everything in the world is connected, the critique of new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology, the call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress, the value proper to each creature, the human meaning of ecology, the need for forthright and honest debate, the serious responsibility of international and local policy, the throwaway culture and the proposal of a new lifestyle. These questions will not be dealt with once and for all, but reframed and enriched again and again.”

For his part, Metropolitan Zizioulas noted first that ‘Laudato si’ provides ample room to the theological dimension of the relationship between man and nature, something that has traditionally been marginal in the academic curricula of Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants. By contrast, "The Encyclical devotes a whole chapter (ch. 2) to show the profound ecological implications of the Christian doctrine of creation. It points out that according to the Bible ‘human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself’ (par. 66).”

The second aspect highlighted by the Orthodox theologian is the spiritual dimension of the ecological crisis. "As it emerges clearly from the Encyclical, the ecological crisis is essentially a spiritual problem. The proper relationship between humanity and the earth or its natural environment has been broken with the Fall both outwardly and within us, and this rupture is sin. The Church must now introduce in its teaching about sin the sin against the environment, the ecological sin. Repentance must be extended to cover also the damage we do to nature both as individuals and as societies. This must be brought to the conscience of every Christian who cares for his or her salvation.”

For Metropolitan Zizioulas “the significance of the Papal Encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ is not limited to the subject of ecology as such” but has “an important ecumenical dimension” as well, namely “the effort to face together the most profound existential problems that preoccupy humanity in its entirety – not simply in particular places or classes of people. Ecology is without doubt the most obvious candidate in this case.”

For the Orthodox prelate, the papal document “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 relativize 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 realized by persecution and blood – an ecumenism of martyrdom.”

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