earth
September 12, 2016
RANDOLPH HALUZA-DELAY
SPECIAL TO THE WCR

When we think of the "seasons" of the Church calendar, Easter, Lent and Advent come to mind. The Seasons of Creation is an ecumenical initiative co-sponsored by the Vatican and a wide variety of other Christian denominations.

It began Sept. 1 – the World Day of Prayer for Care for Creation – and continues until Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

A season of creation reminds us that God is present in all the earth, and prepares us for the divine partnership of caring for creation as a form of social justice. As Pope Francis said in last year's encyclical, "Each organism is a creature of God, is good and admirable in itself."

He cited Pope Benedict XVI who called creation the "rhythm of the love-story between God and [humanity]."

The well-known blessing of animals associated with the feast of St. Francis shows a long custom of valuing other creatures. The encyclical Laudato Si': On Care for Our Common Home clarifies Catholic teaching on the environment.

Ecological stewardship is decidedly not worship of nature, as it is sometimes criticized. Protecting the environment is a duty to the Creator, and essential for caring for the poor, since environmental degradation so significantly impacts them first and most severely.

In Laudato Si', Pope Francis explains that this understanding is in line with centuries of Catholic teaching. The encyclical also refers to the national bishops' conferences of more than two dozen countries, showing that this is a global concern.

Besides the duty to God the Creator, healthy ecosystems are essential to human flourishing. The encyclical connects caring for the earth to an ethic of life, pointing to similarities of attitude between "misuse of creation" and treating some as "throwaway people."

Organizations like Caritas International (the Vatican's international development organization) have long identified care for creation as essential to the long-term effectiveness of their charitable efforts.

Ecological justice is central to the morality of those who say they worship the one Creator of all the earth, who died for all and who holds "the least of these" in special regard.

In the year since the release of Laudato Si', the encyclical has contributed to interfaith dialogue and collaboration. Buddhist, Muslim and Jewish leaders are among those who have commented on Pope Francis' influence on their own efforts to articulate how to care for the earth.

Surveys in several countries, however, show that many Catholics have still not heard about the encyclical in their own parishes.

North American Catholics have been among the most critical. Research has shown that these criticisms are most pronounced when pre-existing political ideologies legitimize free market economics and higher-than-average lifestyles, both of which are criticized in the encyclical.

One study found that only about 18 per cent of American Catholics have heard about the encyclical in their parishes. About 70 per cent of Hispanic American Catholics have heard climate change discussed by religious leaders, but only 20 per cent of white American Catholics. We don't have data from Canada.

The World Day of Prayer every Sept. 1 is a joint declaration of Pope Francis and the leader of the Orthodox churches, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. The Season of Creation (see seasonsofcreation.org for parish resources) is also sponsored by the World Council of Churches.

DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE

Other initiatives also help Canadian Catholics respond to the pope's call for protecting ecological integrity.

This fall, Development & Peace, the official international development and social justice organization of the Canadian Catholic bishops, and the Canadian arm of Caritas International, will focus on ecological justice.

Climate change is only one of several ways that human beings are dramatically altering the planet. Ecological stewardship implies rethinking global society and just relations.

ECONOMICS OR MORALITY?

Current decisions are frequently made on the basis of global economics – what can generate the most profit – and not as moral decisions about what is good. The result is that the poorest people are hit the hardest by extraction of resources because their power, resources and ability to pay are so limited.

To consider faith-driven actions, refer to the Development and Peace website www.devp.org/en/education/fall2016, attend the fall workshop on ecological justice on Oct. 15 at the Pastoral and Administrative Offices, or contact dpwest@devp.org for more information.

(Randolph Haluza-DeLay is a professor of sociology at The King's University in Edmonton. His writing includes the edited collection How the World's Religions Are Responding to Climate Change, published in 2014.)