It’s the eighth work of mercy called for in modern times by Pope Francis in the Jubilee Year. It’s the care of the common home, our planet earth that cries out, in need of a radical change of course before it’s too late. The short Message issued today on the occasion of the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation – celebrated for the second year by the Catholic Church on September 1st in spiritual union with the Orthodox world, in “ecumenical” harmony with other Christian Churches that will devote 5 weeks to the care of creation, September 1st through October 4, – is rich with insights and concrete proposals.
This is a special year for the Catholic Church, marking the celebrations for the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Pope Francis has decided to hold this year’s prayer for the care of Creation simultaneously with this special journey of conversion. There are seven works of Mercy listed in the passage of the Gospel of Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” During the Middle Ages was added the seventh work of mercy, “to bury the dead.”
Pope Francis proposed a new, “modern” work of mercy, in step with the times and with present challenges: the care of the common home.
The dynamics of the proposal follows the spiritual direction typical of this Jubilee: the Pope asks Christians “to repent of the harm we are doing to our common home” and, to put into practice, “after a serious examination of conscience”, a set of actions highlighting our intention to radically change our way of living.
“The earth cries out”, said the Pope. “We must not be indifferent or resigned to the loss of biodiversity and the destruction of ecosystems, often caused by our irresponsible and selfish behaviour.”
Last year’s encyclical Laudato Si’, which Pope Francis devoted to the question of ecology, had a vast resonance worldwide. It hit the news with a strong impact also on the International Conference on Climate change Cop 21, which brought together in Paris 194 world leaders. Since then, Francis’ commitment for an “integral ecology” was relentless. The Pope is worried about the future of planet earth and about the impact of climate changes on the poor populations in particular. “Global warming continues”, the Pope wrote in today’s Message, “due in part to human activity: 2015 was the warmest year on record, and 2016 will likely be warmer still. This is leading to ever more severe droughts, floods, fires and extreme weather events.
Climate change is also contributing to the heart-rending refugee crisis. The world’s poor, though least responsible for climate change, are most vulnerable and already suffering its impact.”
Francis called upon the faithful to undertake “an examination of conscience”, but repentance “must translate into concrete ways of thinking and acting that are more respectful of creation.” The Message contains a sort of Decalogue, a set of concrete “gestures” that show respect for the environment: “avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling.” “We must not think that these efforts are too small to improve our world”, writes the Pope. They “call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread” and encourage “a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption.”
“The first step – Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson told journalists – is acknowledging all the damage we are causing to our planet.”
Pollution, destruction of ecosystems, biodiversity loss coupled by the threat of climate changes, which, year after year, grows increasingly close and dangerous. “It should be understood – the Cardinal pointed out – that when we cause damage to our planet we are hurting the poor, immensely loved by God.” Awareness must be followed by the intention to change “the course of our daily lives”, “without thinking that our commitment, even if made of small gestures, doesn’t serve the scope.” All experts agree that the poor state of health of our planet requires immediate, decisive intervention to halt the slow, albeit relentless advancement of global warming. “The change of heart of economists and political leaders is crucial”, said Cardinal Turkson. The Cardinal referred to the Paris Agreement that set a maximum two-degree limit, requesting a 1.5 degree increase. “Achieving this goal – the cardinal said in the end – is all the more difficult, and it will have to entail a strong ‘intention to adopt a new way of life’. Will we be able to meet this challenge?”.