Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletOctober 17, 2017

Earth Concerns News

Pope Benedict's Peace Message and Our Call to Care for God's Gift of Creation by Sister Diane Zigo, CSJ


During the past few years, I've made it a point to read the Pope's annual message, written for the World Day of Peace, celebrated on January 1.

Pope Benedict XVI has now shared his fifth World Day of Peace message (available through links at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/). Taken individually, each piece can stand alone as a thought-provoking work that painstakingly builds a Scripturally-based foundation for a call to promote peace within one's self, in immediate relationships and in the increasingly interconnected global community. Taken as a series, however, I'm intrigued by how each new message builds on the previous ones: What ideas are developed in greater detail? What considerations have been added or are repeated more emphatically?
 
The 2010 letter took me by surprise. Yes, I looked forward to more of the same direction as there was in the previous letters. I did not expect, however, the fully sustained focus on protecting the environment as the lens through which to reflect upon peace. The title, "If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation," is so clearly influenced by the title of Pope Paul VI's 1972 World Day of Peace message, "If You Want Peace, Work for Justice." Are we being given a new mandate for a new millennium? While I expected to hear passion and compassion voiced within the document's words, I did not anticipate the degree of urgency expressed from the opening paragraph to the final one: "Protecting the natural environment in order to build a world of peace is thus a duty incumbent upon each and all."
 
Pope Benedict XVI is already being called the "green pope." In a Washington Post column, Thomas J. Reese, SJ, noted that the Pope has installed high-tech solar collectors on Vatican buildings. According to a 2008 Newsweek article, "The Vatican is actually the world's only sovereign state that can lay claim to being carbon-neutral. That means that all greenhouse gas emissions from the Holy See are offset through renewable energies and carbon credits." Political writers speculate that one of the intended audiences for this year's message was the one where world leaders gathered for the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen at the same time that the message had been released. After the conference, the Pope pointedly denounced the participants' failure to reach agreement in their negotiations.
 
As with previous letters, the Pope views serious global threats as interwoven. Unethical corporate and industrial practices cause environmental depletions; disproportionate military spending in developing nations exacerbates poverty; consumerist lifestyles in wealthy nations unfairly bleed resources from poorer nations, and so on. The uniqueness of this particular document, however, is that responsibility towards all creation is identified as the underlying factor in responding to these interrelated concerns.
 
For those already dedicated to protecting Earth, these ideas are not new. It is possible that with a visible advocate such as the Pope, they will be considered in increasingly wider circles. I recommend that you read this document, reflect upon it and pray with it. Share it with students. Form a discussion group in your parish. Read the works of Thomas Berry. And go outside.
 
(Diane's article first appeared in The Catholic Sun and is reprinted with permission.)