We Owe It To The Earth

Even if you’re not the praying kind, and even if the message is still somewhat anthropocentric, I’m sure you’ll agree it is very heartening that these words are flying out across the world to 1.2 billion catholics and 300 million Orthodox christians – and particularly those of any faith or none we hope may be listening in presidential homes and palaces – urging us to protect, preserve, respect. And cease to exploit.

Joint message of Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the World Day of Prayer for Creation

“The story of creation presents us with a panoramic view of the world. Scripture reveals that, “in the beginning”, God intended humanity to cooperate in the preservation and protection of the natural environment. At first, as we read in Genesis, “no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up – for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground” (2:5). The earth was entrusted to us as a sublime gift and legacy, for which all of us share responsibility until, “in the end”, all things in heaven and on earth will be restored in Christ (cf. Eph 1:10). Our human dignity and welfare are deeply connected to our care for the whole of creation.

“However, in the meantime, the history of the world presents a very different context. It reveals a morally decaying scenario where our attitude and behaviour towards creation obscures our calling as God’s co-operators. Our propensity to interrupt the world’s delicate and balanced ecosystems, our insatiable desire to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and our greed for limitless profit in markets – all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation. We no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead, we regard it as a private possession. We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs.

“The consequences of this alternative worldview are tragic and lasting. The human environment and the natural environment are deteriorating together, and this deterioration of the planet weighs upon the most vulnerable of its people. The impact of climate change affects, first and foremost, those who live in poverty in every corner of the globe. Our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly implies the recognition of and respect for all people and all living creatures. The urgent call and challenge to care for creation are an invitation for all of humanity to work towards sustainable and integral development.

“Therefore, united by the same concern for God’s creation and acknowledging the earth as a shared good, we fervently invite all people of goodwill to dedicate a time of prayer for the environment on 1 September.  On this occasion, we wish to offer thanks to the loving Creator for the noble gift of creation and to pledge commitment to its care and preservation for the sake of future generations. After all, we know that we labour in vain if the Lord is not by our side (cf. Ps 126-127), if prayer is not at the centre of our reflection and celebration. Indeed, an objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world. The goal of our promise is to be courageous in embracing greater simplicity and solidarity in our lives.

“We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized, but above all to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation. We are convinced that there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.”

This is a message not just for the 1st of September, but for every day of every year.


6th October 2017 Catholic institutions announce largest ever faith-based fossil fuel divestment – EcoWatch

Source: The Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation – Vatican Radio

A page of environment petitions

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Walking Hand in Hand with Nature

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

When Everyone is Telling You Meat is the Bad Guy

5 thoughts on “We Owe It To The Earth

  1. Thank you for sharing. A message so relevant and one that should be heeded for the sake of us all, including animals and future generations. Unfortunately with the election of Trump the battle to save our environment and the creatures that depend on it, including ourselves of course, is ever more difficult as he and those who follow him undo all the progress that has been made.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes indeed.The press are saying the message is especially directed at Trump. Remember when Trump met Pope Francis and the pope gave him as a parting gift his encyclical on climate change? Three months later though Trump withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement:( I sincerely hope he will go soon. I’m relying on Robert Mueller to bring him down, before he does even more damage x


  3. The Prayer Day message by Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is significant. Their statement on behalf of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy reminds human beings that they have the responsibility to care for their planet. Fortunately, the pope and the patriarch focused more on humanity’s role as stewards than as dominators. We are to be protectors rather than plunderers of the planet.

    While statements by the Pope calling for humane treatment of animals are welcome after the Church’s harsh history of ignoring animal suffering and refusing to condemn it, those statements can be confusing as some are more inclusive than others or have undefined qualifiers. If the pope is calling upon us to change our lifestyles and behaviors, we will need to know what is morally demanded and the consequences of not complying.

    As noted by Animalista Untamed, the message in the prayer is still anthropocentric. However, at other times the pope also has said the following about the traditions of anthropocentrism and dominion: “Clearly, the Bible has no place for tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.” Here the qualifier raises questions. Is a lesser anthropocentrism acceptable? What would that look like?

    He also condemns “absolute domination over other creatures” as a misinterpretation of God’s grant of ‘dominion.’” That begs another question—Is there an amount of domination that is acceptable and, if so, what are its limits?

    Environmentally, the Pope notes the “call for humanity to work towards sustainable and integral development.” “Sustainable” has become a buzzword for environmentalists seeking to satisfy resource extractors while appeasing those concerned about overuse. But sustainable use is not necessarily benign. We have seen this in Africa, for example, where some environmental groups collaborated with logging companies. Even limited logging removes trees from the rainforests and also creates roads that allow more people into the area to hunt for bushmeat. Thus habitat is reduced and lives are taken—sustainably.

    Also, the Pope notes that “large-scale destruction of biodiversity can threaten the very existence of the human species.” Again, the emphasis is more anthropocentric, similar to environmentalism that seeks to save forests and wildlife for the benefit of human beings, so that our children and grandchildren can use and enjoy them
    Yet the pope also said that “each organism is a creature of God, is good and admirable in itself [sic].” Similarly, he said “not one of them is forgotten before God,” an allusion to Matthew 10:29, where Christ said not a sparrow could fall to the ground without your Father’s care.”

    The latter quotes are similar to the views of the deep ecologists who value all lives individually and not just as species to be used as resources. It’s not certain whether the pope is advocating one or both or either and is simply advocating care of the earth.

    And what, for example, about factory farming? How does the pontiff’s concern for animals apply to the greatest animal abuse on the planet? Agribusiness constitutes not only gross abuse of animals but also has environmental and health consequences. The Pope worries about the marginalized and poor among us. Animal agriculture uses vast amounts of grains to feed animals that otherwise could go to feed people directly. In times of growing drought, cattle consume huge quantities of water that could also be used to grow crops for human use. The pesticides used to produce more grain contaminate waterways, as do the enormous amounts of manure produced by the animals. Condemning both the animal abuse and the ecological damage of factory farming would be a solid step toward a better world.

    Charles Camposy, professor of theology at Fordham University, believes the pope does, in fact, condemn factory farming in his “Apostolic Exhortation: The Joy of the Gospel.” The pope speaks of “other weak and defenseless beings who are frequently at the mercy of economic interests or indiscriminate exploitation.” He also faulted the market forces that married technology with speed to produce cheaper and faster, harming people and animals, certainly a description of modern slaughter. But as far as we know, the pope has not embraced veganism.

    There are also some mixed messages from the Vatican, if some accounts are accurate. During an interview with Il Messaggero in Zeno, the pope was questioned about the spending criteria of populations worldwide. When he was told that after food, medicine, and clothes, spending for pets was one of the next on the list. The pope replied that “spending for pets is a phenomenon of cultural degradation.” And while the pope talks about caring for the earth, he asserts that the increasing human population is no problem and has no plans to lift the Church’s ban against contraception.

    So Prayer Day was a much needed reminder of our obligations to the earth and our fellow creatures. However, for it to be more than a hortatory exercise, there should be a moral imperative behind it. Yet as far as I know the pope has not spoken out specifically against even the most egregious cruelties, such as bullfighting. Exhortations to care about animals but with no demands for relevant behavior changes are empty rhetoric.

    Unfortunately, even if the pope chose to carry his empathy for animals into action by openly condemning cruelty as morally repugnant and sinful, he would meet strong resistance within the ranks of the Church.
    The Pope is dealing with a conservative backlash from an increasingly polarized Church. The opposition is manifested in article comments sections, new books, and media leaks against possible reforms. According to one source: “The bruising theological pushback by conservatives is complicating efforts to translate the pope’s transformative style into tangible changes.” And Cardinal Raymond Burke warns that “The pope does not have the power to change teaching [or] doctrine.”

    People have traditionally looked toward religion for moral guidance. When it comes to animals and the environment, the Catholic Church has promoted human supremacy and dominion. That speciesism has allowed people to relentlessly and mercilessly exploit other creatures and the planet’s resources. If the Church demanded changing those beliefs and behaviors, it would involve a huge cultural shift. It would damage the authority of the Church, as many people would likely leave their congregations. Conservative members of the hierarchy and the clergy would also be in rebellion.

    So I suspect that the animals and the earth cannot count on that arbiter of morality—the Catholic Church—to make big changes in the near future.



    1. Thank you so much again for your scholarly appraisal of Pope Francis’s exhortations, and the attitudes of the Catholic Church as a whole. I must admit to have only read about half of his encyclical, and although he does make clear that he sees humans as the special creation of God, (which I do not) he emphasises the preciousness of every living thing, and the profound interconnectedness and interdependence of life on earth. I think it’s evident that he sees the short-sighted greed that prompts callous exploitation and despoliation as a sin. The idea that the way the international corporations and agribusinesses operate is a great evil, is implicit in his words, and that we need a more loving way, our whole economic system needing to change. He also talks of the strong opposition to change. What he does not do as you rightly say, is tackle the population problem and lift the church’s archaic ban on contraception. Nor does he call on us to go vegan. Is he perhaps trying to change people’s hearts with St Francis as their exemplar, and bring them back to God, believing that the rest will follow?

      The major religions as a whole have been slow to proclaim the need for humans to change the way they relate to planet Earth. There may be shortcomings in Pope Francis’s thoughts and words. I could be wrong, but it still strikes me as a profound change of direction for the Catholic church. He is declaring this a moral and spiritual issue, something that believers really need to concern themselves with.


      1. Thank you. I really appreciate your comments.

        I agree that Pope Francis’ statements are significant in recognizing the importance of all God’s creation.

        I believe there are Catholics who wish to remain in the Church but who are disturbed by their religion’s failure to give nonhuman animals moral consideration. These Catholics hope the pontiff’s remarks indicate change. Unfortunately the general statements are not followed by the condemnation of any cruelty, such as bullfighting or the sadistic saints’ festivals in primarily Catholic countries. I think people seek some intent for real change. As the saying goes, “the mills of the gods grind slowly.” Too slow for the animals.

        Liked by 1 person

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