Edward de Quay manages the Environmental Advisory Group at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Here he tells us how the Catholic Church is responding to one of the biggest crises currently facing our planet.
By Edward de Quay
Last August our bishops released a statement entitled ‘Guardians of God’s Creation,’ highlighting the urgency of the ecological crisis we are living through. This statement called for the development of a “Christian spirituality of ecology” which begins in “personal” and “family life”. The bishops committed themselves to engage over the next decade on this urgent challenge, and have already commissioned two film-based resources, ‘Global Healing (in 2018)’ and ‘Global Caring (in 2019)’, as a way for individuals and congregations to enter into discussion on how our faith informs a response to the ecological crisis. Individual dioceses have gone further in setting their own targets, producing resources and working to improve their energy management and education on the issue.
Our particular language in the Catholic Church asks us to recognise a profound ‘ecological crisis.’ Ecology is the study of the relationship between living things and their environment, so we go beyond simple definitions of climate change to understand how our way of living affects the world around us, and its ability to sustain our global family. Pope Francis asks us to hear both the ‘cry of the earth and the cry of the poor,’ and to understand that these cries are inextricably linked.
It can be a challenge to create understanding that caring for our common home is an integral, not optional, part of our Christian experience. Pope Francis quotes the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew in saying that “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins.” (Laudato Si’ 8). Pope Francis suggests that the creation accounts in the book of Genesis show that human life is rooted in three fundamental relationships: with God, our neighbour and the earth itself. These relationships are broken, and the rupture is sin, caused by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to accept our creaturely limitations. (Laudato Si’ 66).
If we are to love one another as Jesus asked us to, then we need to come to terms with the reality that in a globalised world, everyone is our neighbour. Our way of life doesn’t just affect those immediately around us. The way we live affects anyone involved in creating or dealing with refuse from the products we consume, and anyone trying to make a living from lands affected by climate change. While governments and major corporations must be held to account, we cannot shy away from our personal responsibility. Pope Francis illustrates this through the story of Noah.
“(Laudato Si’ 71) Although “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” (Genesis 6:5) and the Lord “was sorry that he had made man on the earth” (Genesis 6:6), nonetheless, through Noah, who remained innocent and just, God decided to open a path of salvation. In this way he gave humanity the chance of a new beginning. All it takes is one good person to restore hope!”
We need to be like Noah, else we continue to sleepwalk into an uncertain future. We have to wake up. In his extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing in March, Pope Francis reflected on the calming of the storm passage from the Gospel of Mark. “’Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?’ Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”
We all have the power to bring about small everyday changes that benefit everyone and help us live lives closer to God, our neighbour and our common home. At home, we can pray, read the Bible, educate ourselves and think about our energy usage, waste, what types of products we use and how they were produced. In parishes, we can promote engagement in the issue and look for ways to build community while making our parishes more environmentally sustainable and based on biblical principles. Nationally we can engage with charities like CAFOD to ensure that our voice is heard at the political level.
Acting on this ‘ecological crisis’ is not about some sort of ‘green’ idealism. It is about our relationship with the Creator and the created, and we can make a start today.
Resources to help you start a parish environment group can be found here: journeyto2030.org/getting-started
The Diocese of Salford have created this helpful leaflet – Caring for our common home, at home: dioceseofsalford.org.uk