Our Holy Father Pope Francis has announced that he will publish an apostolic exhortation on the environment on Oct. 4, the memorial feast of St. Francis of Assisi, as a follow up to his landmark encyclical on Care for Creation, Laudato Si’ (May 24, 2015).
Read Pope Francis’ Message on the occasion of the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation HERE.
In the meantime, Pope Francis has invited the Church to participate in a Season of Creation throughout September, as part of a global ecumenical initiative to raise consciousness about our responsibility to care for the earth and its resources.
Bishop O'Connell and priests from around the Diocese of Trenton celebrate Mass on the first World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, Sept. 1. 2015, in St. Denis Parish, Manasquan. Ken Falls photo
Sept. 1 is the date first set aside by the Holy Father in 2015 as an annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. In his yearly message for the occasion, Pope Francis has chosen the theme, “Let Justice and Peace Flow.”
While making this announcement in his weekly audience on Aug. 30, the Holy Father remarked:
“Let us join our Christian brothers and sisters in the commitment to care for creation as a sacred gift from the Creator. It is necessary to stand with the victims of environmental and climate injustice, striving to end the senseless war on our common home, which is a terrible world war. I urge all of you to work and pray for it to abound with life once again.”
Concern for the environment has been a consistent special intention throughout the pontificate of Pope Francis, although not exclusively so.
In his 1971 apostolic letter Octogesima Adveniens, Pope St. Paul VI wrote that ecological concern is "a tragic consequence of unchecked human activity. Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation.”
Pope St. John Paul II saw environmental concerns only within the larger context of human good. His claim was that the lack of peace in the world and the lack of environmental stability spring from the same root, which is human sin. In other words, the ecological crisis is, at its root, a moral problem.
Like Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI placed ecology in the context of a larger Catholic worldview, and he proposed the only ecology that will ultimately save planet earth: one that follows God’s plan for creation (Brother Ignatius Schweitzer, OP, “The Green Popes,” 2010).
The Diocese of Trenton was among the very first in the United States to publicly respond to the challenges posed by Pope Francis in Laudato Si’. It was then that clergy and faithful from our many parishes gathered in the beach chapel of St. Denis Parish in Manasquan for a Mass to mark the first World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.
In my Sept. 1, 2015, homily to mark the occasion, calling to mind the memories of the then recent Superstorm Sandy, I reminded those gathered that:
“Pope Francis has asked all people, especially Catholics and the Orthodox with whom we share so much in common, to respond to the environmental crises we face, precisely as people of faith.”
I noted that the complexities of these issues are “multifaceted” and very real, and many reject the Pope’s concern as …
… “inflammatory, merely an invitation to enter into the politicized debate over climate change and global warming. The Holy Father is calling all people of God — believer and non-believer alike — but especially Christians and Catholics, to be good, responsible stewards of creation and of our ‘common home.’
“That call is not a negligible part of our faith and morality, regardless of what the Pope’s critics may say. He is our spiritual Father and our Teacher of faith and morality, roles that are uniquely his as the Vicar of Christ on earth. If the believer ignores responsibility for the world in which we live, the resources it provides and the people with whom we share them, what can we possibly expect from those who do not believe? If we show no regard or respect for the divine plan for creation, what can we say of human plans, human possibilities, human hopes for a sustainable future?”
As we commemorate and celebrate World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, let’s listen to this year’s message of Pope Francis:
“In this Season of Creation, as followers of Christ on our shared synodal journey, let us live, work and pray that our common home will teem with life once again. May the Holy Spirit once more hover over the waters and guide our efforts to ‘renew the face of the earth’” (cf. Ps 104:30).