Above: Solar panels are seen on the roof of the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall, installed during the papacy of Pope Benedict. Dec. 1, 2010, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CARING FOR GOD’S CREATION: Living Laudato Si’; helping to bring Pope Francis’s encyclical to life in our community

From the Diocese of Syracuse “Care for Our Common Home” Task Force

By Dominic Wilkins

Contributing writer

         When we think of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the environment, Pope Francis usually comes to mind, primarily because in 2015 he released the encyclical Laudato Si’. This landmark document called Catholics and all people of goodwill to listen far more carefully to the cries of the earth and the poor. But Francis was far from the first Catholic leader to express deep concern about how so many communities mistreat their environments. The popes have been speaking about the hurt our world suffers since the 1960s.

          St. Paul VI, for instance, reflected with concern across his writings about how human activities so often degrade the planetary garden which Genesis instructs all should tend. Throughout, he also warned that continuing along our current path might result in an “intolerable” world.

          St. John Paul II carried this focus into his papacy. In 1990, he delivered a now-classic address on the need for healthy environments. The Pope expressed concern with how “a lack of due respect for nature” threatened peace around the globe, especially as the “‘greenhouse effect’ reached crisis proportions.” Holding “industrial growth, massive urban concentrations, and vastly increased energy needs” responsible, John Paul II called all to better care for our world. He equated access to a safe environment with a fundamental human right.

          In closing his address, John Paul II wrote that the “ecological crisis is a moral issue.” Addressing it consequently, is “the responsibility of everyone.” Over his remaining years, the Pope continued stressing better care for our common home.

          Sixteen years later, Benedict XVI focused one chapter in his letter Caritas in Veritate on environmental concerns. Recognizing the environment as “God’s gift to everyone,” he implored people to better care for and distribute its resources. Pope Benedict called especially for greater social responsibility from businesses — even as he saw them increasingly prioritizing shareholders over “the natural environment and broader society.” During his papacy, the Vatican even added “wrecking the environment” as one of the cardinal vices all Catholics must avoid.

          Benedict did not just talk. He instituted dramatic changes in Vatican City so it could better care for creation. His efforts often focused on solar power, doing so much that he was even dubbed “the Green Pope” by outside commentators. Under Benedict’s direction, thousands of panels were installed on Vatican roofs while he sought electric vehicles for the Holy See.

          During these years, national bishops’ conferences joined the popes in calling Catholics to address environmental problems. This included the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In both 1991 and 2000, they issued incisive statements critiquing systemic environmental injustices here in the United States. These included human-caused climate change, which more than two decades ago the Church already saw as a major crisis.

          Across our Diocese of Syracuse, several parishes have begun responding to these calls for action by setting up Care for Creation teams. These do important work, as the Sun has and will continue to highlight.

          However, far more is needed. Our planet remains in a dire environmental crisis. So many suffer needlessly from droughts, floods and fires made worse because of the greed of certain humans bent on profiting at the expense of others’ lives.

          Fortunately, everyone can do something. Alongside Catholic leaders around the world, the Diocese of Syracuse’s Care for our Common Home Task Force urges all to join their parish’s team. If your parish does not currently have one, we encourage you to reach out to Linda Zimmerman (lzimmerman@ivcusa.org) or chuck.tomaselli@gmail.com. They can offer advice and resources to help with getting started on our duty to love and care for our common home.

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