Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Preserving God’s creation is a sacred duty

By ARCHBISHOP GREGORY J. HARTMAYER, OFM Conv. | Published May 28, 2020  | En Español

Laudato Si’. These words are taken from the beautiful Canticle of Creation by St. Francis of Assisi. The “Canticle of the Creatures” or the “Canticle of Creation” reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.

The canticle continues “Praise be to you, my Lord through our sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.”

Pope Francis states: “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the good with which God has endowed her.”

“He goes on to say: “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. We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (Gn 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

All of the popes in my lifetime have addressed the issues facing our climate and the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink. 

More than 50 years ago, the world was teetering on the brink of nuclear crisis. Pope John XXIII (St. John XXIII) wrote an encyclical, which not only rejected war but offered a proposal for peace. He addressed his message “Pacem in Terris” to the entire “Catholic World” and to “all men and women of goodwill.”

Now, we are faced with a global crisis of a different kind … environmental deterioration. 

Pope Francis wishes to address every person living on this planet about the concerns that he mentions in this encyclical. He seeks to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.

In 1971, eight years after “Pacem in Terris,” Pope Paul VI (St. Paul VI) referred to the ecological concern as “a tragic consequence” of unchecked human activity. He said: “Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation.” He spoke in similar terms to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations about the potential for an “ecological catastrophe under the effective explosion of industrial civilization” and stressed “the urgent need for a radical change of conduct of humanity,” inasmuch as “the most extraordinary scientific advances, the most amazing technical abilities, the most astonishing economic growth, unless they are accomplished by authentic social and moral progress, will definitively turn against man.”

St. John Paul II became increasingly concerned about this issue. In his first encyclical he warned that human beings frequently seem “to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption.”

Benedict XVI proposed “eliminating the structural causes of the dysfunctions of the world economy and correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment.” He continued: “The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves.”

These statements of the popes echo the reflections of numerous scientists, philosophers, theologians and civic groups, all of which have enriched the church’s thinking on these questions.

Outside the Catholic Church, other churches and Christian communities—and other religions as well—have expressed deep concerns and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing.

This entire world is now experiencing a pandemic from the COVID-19 virus. No country is spared. There is no vaccine. 

We must respond as a world. 

As Laudato Si’ makes it clear, it is our sacred duty to preserve the beauty and bounty of our local ecology for future generations.