My dear brothers and sisters,
Perhaps some of you may wonder: why does the Bishop write a pastoral letter on the safeguarding of creation? Are there no more important issues to address? It may sound as something new to many of us but the present reality, many people and particularly the poor experience, is caused, to a great extend, by climate change: multiple flooding in one part of the globe or within a country and excessive heat and drought resulting in wildfires in other parts. The present covid19 pandemic has still aggravated the calamity. Pope Francis in his Encyclical ‘Laudato Sii’ points on a living connection between environmental well-being and the Gospel. Some of our own resolutions of the last Diocesan Pastoral Council meeting also deal with the safeguarding of creation and it is one of the focal areas of the new Pastoral Plan.
Moreover it is not just a question of ecology but a question of how we, human beings, relate both to nature and to one another. Do we see ourselves at the center of everything which gives us a right to do as we please and abuse both creation and our fellow human beings without impunity? The two relationships cannot be separated. Perhaps some of you will remember the poster propagated by the Southern African Bishops Conference (SACBC) Department for Formation, Life and Apostolate of the Laity, presenting both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. Pope Francis in nr. 49 of his Encyclical ‘Laudato Sii’ states that: “Today we cannot fail to recognize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach which must integrate questions of justice into discussions about the environment, in order to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” In nr. 217 he states that: “Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God.” In the same paragraph Pope Francis goes on to make it clear that: “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” Even in the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, the Creator of all things and of us human beings mandated us: “to cultivate and to take care of the garden of Eden” (see Genesis 2: 15). This verse was very much misunderstood as allowing us to do whatever with this earth and exploit it. This is not what God intended. It is a result of our inborn greed. Pope Francis in his Encyclical calls for an ecological conversion where “the effects of our encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in our relationship with the world around us (see ‘Laudato Sii’ nr. 217).
How can we respond? Surely the first thing is to become aware of the situation of the ecological and social degradation we are experiencing. But it should not end up there. We have to act. The theme of this month of creation expresses it very well ‘Pray and take action for our common home’. We must find ways in which dioceses, parishes, blocs youth groups, Sodalities and families can be actively involved in assuming shared moral responsibility for our common home and the common good. Perhaps we are tempted to respond that the problem is far too big to tackle and that it is better to leave it to the government and to big organizations who are meeting in Glasgow (Great Britain) later this year (from 31st of October till 12th of November) to talk about climate issues. No, the little we do, even on local level, is important and can cause a chain reaction like throwing a pebble in a pool. Let’s start with keeping our environment clean. Let’s be careful with the use of water and electricity.
Various SACBC Departments have collaborated in preparing material for each week of the month (each week having a different theme). It can be used in the various groups mentioned above. And wherever we are, alone or together with others, let us pray the special prayer composed by Pope Francis, which we find at the end of his Encyclical ‘Laudato Sii’:
All powerful God, you are present in the universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty. Fill us with your peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one. O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes. Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth. Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light. We thank you for being with us each day. Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle, for justice, love and peace.
Yours in Christ,
+Jan De Groef
Bishop of Bethlehem Diocese