Message to a Group of Lay People from France
engaged in the field of ecology
3 September 2020
Prepared address of the Holy Father
We are part of a single human family, called to live in a common home whose disturbing degradation we see together. The health crisis that humanity is currently experiencing reminds us of our fragility. We understand the extent to which we are linked to one another, within a world whose future we share, and that mistreating it can only have serious consequences, not only environmental but also social and human.
We welcome the fact that an awareness of the urgency of the situation is now being felt everywhere, that the issue of ecology is increasingly permeating the ways of thinking at all levels and is beginning to influence political and economic choices, even if much remains to be done and if we are still witnessing too much slowness and even steps in the wrong direction. For her part, the Catholic Church intends to participate fully in the commitment to the protection of the common home. She has no ready solutions to propose and is not unaware of the difficulties of the technical, economic and political issues at stake, nor of all the efforts that this commitment entails. But she wants to act concretely where this is possible, and above all she wants to form consciences in order to foster a profound and lasting ecological conversion, which alone can respond to the important challenges we face.
With regard to this ecological conversion, I would like to share with you the way in which the convictions of faith offer Christians great motivations for the protection of nature, as well as of the most fragile brothers and sisters, because I am certain that science and faith, which propose different approaches to reality, can develop an intense and fruitful dialogue (cf. Encyclical Laudato Si’, 62).
The Bible teaches us that the world was not born of chaos or chance, but by a decision of God who called it and always calls it into existence, out of love. The universe is beautiful and good, and contemplating it allows us to glimpse the infinite beauty and goodness of its Author. Every creature, even the most ephemeral, is the object of the Father’s tenderness, which gives it a place in the world. A Christian cannot but respect the work that the Father has entrusted to him, like a garden to cultivate, to protect, to grow in accordance with its potential. And while man has the right to make use of nature for his own ends, he cannot in any way consider himself its owner or despot, but simply the custodian who will have to account for its management. In this garden that God offers us, human beings are called to live in harmony, in justice, peace and fraternity, the Gospel ideal proposed by Jesus (cf. LS, 82). And when nature is considered solely as an object of profit and interest – a vision that consolidates the will of the strongest – then harmony is broken and serious inequalities, injustice and suffering occur.
St John Paul II said: “Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given to him, but man too is God’s gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed” (Encyclical Centesimus Annus, 38). Everything is therefore connected. It is the same indifference, the same selfishness, the same greed, the same pride, the same claim to be the master and despot of the world that leads human beings, on the one hand, to destroy species and plunder natural resources, and on the other, to exploit the misery, to abuse the work of women and children, to overturn the laws of the family cell, and to no longer respect the right to human life from conception to its natural end.
Therefore, “if the present ecological crisis is one small sign of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity, we cannot presume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relationships” (LS, 119). So there will be no new relationship with nature without a new human being, and it is by healing the human heart that one can hope to heal the world from its social and environmental unrest.
[…] While the conditions on the planet may seem catastrophic and certain situations may seem even irreversible, we Christians do not lose hope because we have our eyes turned to Jesus Christ. He is God, the Creator himself, who came to visit his creation and to dwell among us (cf. LS, 96-100), to heal us, to restore the harmony we have lost, harmony with our brothers and sisters and harmony with nature. “He does not abandon us, he does not leave us alone, for he has united himself definitively to our earth, and his love constantly impels us to find new ways forward (LS, 245).
Im promptu address
Ecological conversion shows us harmony in general, the correlation of everything: everything is correlated; everything is related. In our human societies, we have lost this sense of human correlation. Yes, there are associations, there are groups — like yours — which meet in order to do something…. But I am referring to that fundamental relationship that creates human harmony. And very often we have lost the sense of our roots, of belonging. The sense of belonging. When a people loses its sense of roots, it loses its very identity. But no! We are modern! We go and think about our grandparents, our great-grandparents…. Things that are old! But there is another reality which is history; there is belonging to a tradition, to a humanity, to a way of living. This is why it is very important today to take care of this, to nurture the roots of our belonging, so that the fruits are good.
Therefore, dialogue between grandparents and grandchildren is necessary today more than ever. This may seem rather peculiar, but if a young person — you are all young here — does not have the sense of a relationship with his or her grandparents, the sense of roots, he or she will not have the capacity to carry forward his or her own history, humanity, and will end up coming to terms with, compromising with, the circumstances. Human harmony does not tolerate compromise. Yes, human politics — which is another art, and is necessary — is done in this way, with compromises so that everyone might go forward. But harmony does not. If you do not have roots the tree will not live. There is an Argentine poet, Francisco Luis Bernárdez — he is already dead, he is one of our great poets — who says: “Todo lo que el árbol tiene de floridovive de lo que tiene sepultado”. If human harmony bears fruit it is because it has roots.
And why dialogue with grandparents? I can talk with parents, this is very important! Talking with parents is very important. But grandparents have something more, like good wine. The older the wine, the better it gets. You French people know these things, don’t you? Grandparents have that wisdom. I have always been struck by that passage in the Book of Joel: “Grandparents will dream. The old will dream and the young will prophesy”. Young people are prophets. The elderly are dreamers. It seems the opposite, but this is how it is! As long as one speaks to the elderly, to grandparents. And this is human ecology.