- Trying to square the circle
The opening days of the Synod on the Family have revealed distinct differences of opinion between the participants. How can their commitment to church teaching be matched with compassion for those who struggle with it?
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The Church in the World
Pope Francis has begun working on a new document that will address a broad range of issues related to the “care of Creation”, including protection of the environment and defence of the nature and dignity of the human person.
Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi SJ confirmed on 24 January that the Pope was preparing a text on ecology, which he opined “could become an encyclical”. But he underlined that it would specifically emphasise “human ecology”, a term denoting a holistic understanding of all that the Church calls Creation – from the human person to the universe and its natural resources. The spokesman said the text was only in its “early stages” and he could not predict when it would be finished.
Ever since his election as Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis has consistently repeated that all people, but especially Christians, have the duty to care for Creation.
“Let us be ‘protectors’ of Creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment,” he said at his inauguration Mass on 19 March.
“It means protecting all Creation, the beauty of the created world, as the book of Genesis tells us and as St Francis of Assisi showed us,” the newly elected Pope said on that occasion. “It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live … [and] showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about,” he added.
Of the many times the Jesuit Pope returned to the theme since then, he offered some of his most poignant reflections at the 5 June general audience, which coincided with World Environment Day. He noted that caring for Creation was not only respecting the environment. “The popes have spoken of a human ecology, closely connected with environmental ecology,” he said.
“We are living in a time of crisis; we see it in the environment, but above all, we see it in men and women. The human person is in danger today, hence the urgent need for human ecology!” Francis warned. He said this included significant economical, ethical and anthropological aspects. “Men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the ‘culture of waste’,” he said.
In such a culture, the Pope continued, people “are no longer seen as a primary value to be respected and safeguarded, especially if they are poor or disabled, if they are not yet useful – like the unborn child – or are no longer of any use – like the elderly person”. The same culture, he said, contributed to the “especially condemnable” habit of wasting food in a world where so many suffered from hunger and malnutrition.
Pope Francis is likely to develop those thoughts more fully in his upcoming documents on ecology.