"You Love All That Exists ... All Things Are Yours, God, Lover of Life ..." (1): A Pastoral Letter on the Christian Ecological Imperative

Article excerpt

SOCIAL AFFAIRS COMMISSION

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

October 4, 2003

Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

(Patron Saint for Ecology)

1. The beauty and grandeur of nature touches each one of us. From panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source of wonder and awe. It is also a continuing revelation of the divine. Humans live within a vast community of life on earth. In the Jewish and Christian religious traditions, God is first described as the Creator who, as creation proceeded, "saw that it was good." (2) God's love for all that exists was wondrously evident then, remains so now, and invites the active response of humankind.

2. To enter into ever-deeper relationship with God--this "Lover of Life"--entails striving to develop right relations with nature and with other human beings. But life on earth today is plagued with an unprecedented and accelerating ecological crisis. Deforestation, species extinction, climate change, ecosystem collapse, contamination of air and water, and soil erosion are just a few of the enormous ecological problems which we face in Canada and elsewhere in our world. How many of us remember a childhood spent playing under the sun, a beach we were once able to swim at, a river we were once able to drink from--but no more! The closing of the once overwhelmingly bountiful cod fishery in Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador is a particularly painful example of this crisis. Indeed, every region has been affected in some negative manner. Environmental health concerns are frequent, arising from the Sydney Tar Ponds in Nova Scotia to urban smog alerts in Toronto or Montreal, from contaminated mine sites in northern Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories to the safety of food that every Canadian family will eat.

3. God's glory is revealed in the natural world, yet we humans are presently destroying creation. In this light, the ecological crisis is also a profoundly religious crisis. In destroying creation we are limiting our ability to know and love God. "The ecological crisis is a moral issue" and "the responsibility of everyone," says Pope John Paul II. (3) "Care for the environment is not an option. In the Christian perspective, it forms an integral part of our personal life and of life in society. Not to care for the environment is to ignore the Creator's plan for all of creation and results in an alienation of the human person." (4)

A RELIGIOUS RESPONSE

   Praise be my Lord for our brother the wind,
   and for air and cloud, calms and all weather,
   by which you uphold life in all creatures.

   --St. Francis of Assisi, The Canticle of the Sun

4. Throughout history, each people's religious beliefs have conditioned their relationship to their environment. Some Christians have developed the ecological acumen of saints. Others seem to have misinterpreted the Genesis account to "subdue" the earth and establish "dominion" over all living things. Pope John Paul II has emphasized the need for "ecological conversion," (5) and we are encouraged that many Christian traditions are responding actively to the ecological crisis. They have recognized that churches have insufficiently come to grips with how aspects of Christian theology and tradition are implicated in the Western capitalist development model which has led to so much ecological ruin (6) (not to mention the ecological disasters left by communist regimes). Christians are mining biblical and theological resources in order to gain insight into "eco-justice" issues. Others are collaborating by forming new ecumenical and interfaith alliances. The work to highlight a theology of creation that directs us towards the proper relationship between God and the entire earth community is most timely and appreciated, both within the churches and increasingly among environmental activists. (7)

5. All spiritual traditions speak of the marvels of the earth: the overwhelming beauty, the vast array of creatures, the complex and interconnected weave of ecosystems. …