Bolivian indigenous people walk in a protest demanding the right to have a say in decisions affecting their lands.

CNS PHOTO | DAVID MERCADO, REUTERS

Bolivian indigenous people walk in a protest demanding the right to have a say in decisions affecting their lands.

June 29, 2015
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Consumerism and individualism have seriously eroded traditional cultures and sent society into "ethical and cultural decline," says Pope Francis.

An emphasis on economic growth has led to increased standardization through efforts to cut costs and simplify procedures, the pope said in a chapter on Integral Ecology in his encyclical On Care for Our Common Home.

The pope argues that all aspects of life are interrelated with the physical environment having an effect on social life.

Illegal drug use in affluent societies, for example, "creates a continual and growing demand for products imported from poorer regions, where behaviour is corrupted, lives are destroyed, and the environment continues to deteriorate."

Consumerism diminishes cultural variety, and merely technical solutions to problems leads to increasing uniformity, he said. Environmental exploitation can undo social structures that shape the cultural identity of a people.

Pope Francis paid tribute to indigenous people for whom "land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values."

When people's living environment is "disorderly, chaotic or saturated with noise and ugliness," human happiness can be undermined, he said.

Likewise, "In the unstable neighbourhoods of mega-cities, the daily experience of overcrowding and social anonymity can create a sense of uprootedness which spawns antisocial behaviour and violence."

Yet, even in the midst of such conditions, he said, the poor are often able to create close and warm communities or to make the interior of their homes into comfortable environments.

Common areas, visual landmarks and urban landscapes which enhance people's sense of belonging deserve to be preserved, he said. People also need homes where they can raise their families and have a sense of personal dignity.

Pope Francis said valuing one's own body in its masculinity or femininity is a prerequisite to "an encounter with someone who is different." Cancelling out sexual difference "is not a healthy attitude."

"Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology."

Crucial also is the valuing of future generations, he said. Emphasizing humanity's common destiny makes sustainable development possible. It also broadens the scope of each person's interests.

"Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others."