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Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB


Abbot Peter NovecoskyProtect the environment 

Pope Francis is reiterating his call for care of the environment, and religious leaders are echoing his concern.

In his message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, Sept. 1, Pope Francis proposed adding the care and protection of creation to the traditional list of corporal and spiritual works of mercy (PM, Sept. 7).  

As a spiritual work of mercy, the pope said, care for creation requires “a grateful contemplation of God’s world,” while as a corporal work, it calls for “simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness.” 

When we hurt the earth, we also hurt the poor and thus commit a sin against creation, against the poor and against those who have not yet been born, the papal message explained.

Pope Francis came back to this theme in an audience Sept. 8 with participants of a Latin American conference on the care for creation. The Sept. 7 - 8 conference, “America in Dialogue: Our Common Home,” was held in Rome and sponsored by Organization of American States and the Institute for Inter-religious Dialogue of Bueno Aires, as well as the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The conference addressed Laudato Si’, his encyclical on the environment.

He told the delegates religions can play an important role in protecting the environment and defending human rights in their countries, their communities and their schools.

The world, he said, is looking at religious believers to see their reaction to protecting the environment and human rights. Members of different religious communities must work alongside non-believers so that “we may give effective responses to the many plagues in our world.”

Religious communities also must stand together in condemning acts of violence and terrorism in the name of God, he said. These actions have caused “religions to be pointed to as the ones responsible for the evil that surrounds us.”

Pope Francis told the participants that the emphasis on God’s mercy and love during the Holy Year provides an occasion to fight for creation, so that it may be a home “where everyone has a place and nobody is excluded or eliminated.”

Meanwhile, The Churches and Mining Network, which includes Catholic bishops, priests and laypeople, leaders of Christian churches and environmentalists, met in Santo Domingo and issued a statement Sept. 4 (see related story). It pointed out that large-scale mining and extractive operations are failing to deliver economic benefits while causing environmental damage and human suffering throughout Latin America.

It called on governments, church leaders and civil society organizations to find alternatives to so-called “mega-mining” operations. The statement was signed by roughly 50 members coming from at least 15 countries. It emphasized heightening conflict between international mining companies and rural communities, often populated by indigenous peoples. 

A report released in June by the international non-governmental organization Global Witness noted that 185 people were killed in such conflicts across the globe last year, the highest number on record. Nearly two of every three of those deaths occurred in Latin American countries, led by Brazil’s 50 killings, according to the report. 

In Bolivia, four workers and the country’s deputy minister of the interior were killed in recent violence. In March, Berta Caceres, a Honduran environmental activist and indigenous rights leader who won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 for her work in opposing a proposed hydroelectric dam, was shot dead in her home. 

Environmental degradation includes mercury pollution and a resurgence of malaria from gold mining in Venezuela, destruction of the rainforest in Peru and sulphur dioxide pollution from copper mining. 

People in the Global North are largely unaware of these issues. Out of sight, out of mind. They are interested in profits made by their companies and use of the raw materials. Communities in the Global South, who don’t receive the economic benefits promised and who lose control over their natural resources, are the losers.

The World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation needs to be followed up by an examination of and change in “simple, daily gestures” in our lifestyle.