Page 6, 21st June 2002

21st June 2002
Page 6
Page 6, 21st June 2002 — S ay the word "ecology" to many Catholics today or steer

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Locations: Johannesburg, Venice


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S ay the word "ecology" to many Catholics today or steer

the conversation towards "green issues", "global warming" or "saving the planet" — and see the blank or mocking expressions. Minority interest stuff. Nothing to do with us. But hold on, who's that lining up with all those "sentimental tree huggers" and "unwashed ecowarriors" — can that be His Holiness? Indeed it is. Pope John Paul II has been uncompromising and consistent throughout his Pontificate in attempting to raise ecological awareness in the Church. His 1990 message for World Peace Day: Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation was a landmark document which deserves to be studied and acted upon in every parish and home. Most recently the Holy Father has been making common cause

with Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, another enthusiastic eco-sage.

On June 10 they signed together the Venice Declaration offering six "ethical goals" to "steer the earth toward our children's future" — a future which we are all betraying with our lifestyles and our society's "unsustainable patterns of consumption and production". This is not just an economic or technological issue, stressed their Holinesses, "it is moral and spiritual". Crucially, it requires from all of us "an act of repentance" and "a renewed attempt to view ourselves, one another, and the world around us within the perspective of the divine design for creation".

No wonder this is kept quiet — little reported, never preached on, rarely prayed for. For who wants to undergo "in the most radical way, an inner change of heart which can lead to a change in lifestyle"? We've worked hard for our lifestyles jetting off on foreign hols, being a twoor three-car family, having TVs in every mom, buying exotic yearround produce at the supermarkets together with cheap basic foods, and designer clothes and trainers "for the kids". Phew, hands off.

But it is "for the kids" that motivates Pope and Patriarch for they "and future generations are entitled to a better world, a world free from degradation, violence and bloodshed, a world of generosity and love". In other words, environmental concerns encompass justice and peace, and promote "a true culture of life". You can hardly be pro-life and ignore death-dealing conditions in the world around. And if we are apparently immune, as yet, to the worst consequences of environmental degradation

(although our increased incidents of flooding seem to be a signal) it is because we are not subject to mudslip through deforestation, or having toxic waste dumped in our neighbourhoods. These, and many more horrors, are the prices paid by the world's poorest people. Our voracious consumerism blinds us now to a future not so far away — where the world's agroindustry will be in the powerful hands of a few megaproducers and giant biotechnology companies. Developing countries, unable to control the consequences of pollution and desertification, will sink further into dependence and starvation. One third of bird and mammal species will be no more, and depleted wild fish stocks will give way to fanned fish, until these succumb entirely to disease. And Lord knows what today's genetically modified organisms (GM0s) will do to the fragile balance of nature by our grandchildren's time.

I could go on, but I'll spare you. Depressed readers tend to turn away, and I don't want you to do that. Because, although it all sounds pretty grim, if we start now, "with God's help and blessing", Pope and Patriarch assure us that "It is not too late. God's world has incredible healing powers." Start? Us? Can't we leave it to "them"? Not according to Catholic environmentalist John Seymour "We have to do it just the two of us — just you and me. There is no 'them' there is nobody else. Just you and me."

Right, sleeve rolling-up time. How are we to go about helping to heal the world? Just before he signed the Venice Declaration with the Pope, Patriarch Bartholomew addressed attendant theologians, ecologists and journalists in the Ducal Palace in Venice. He evoked the prophetic words his predecessor, Dimitrios 1, used in I989-when inaugurating September 1 as an annual day of prayer for the environment, that we all need to display a "eucharistic and ascetic spirit". This should guide us in our approach — gratitude and selfrestraint. Gratitude because the

created world is not ours to do as we like with, but God's. We are supposed to be looking after it on his behalf, choosing our actions with that in mind, thankful for the privilege.

Self-restraint and sacrifice, according to the Patriarch, is "exactly the missing dimension in our environmental ethos and ecological action". Not gloomy old, sometimes exploitative, sacrifice but the willing and joyful offering up in love of something — our voracious consumerism, for example. Painful and costly, yes. But worthwhile and fulfilling, absolutely. The plunging of the Cross into water (a river or the sea, if performed outdoors) in the Orthodox ceremony of the Blessing of the Waters which commemorates Christ's baptism in the Jordan, is seen as sanctifying the waters and, through them, transforming the entire world. God's creation is made holy through the Cross. Orthodox tradition teaches that the human race is priestly, charged with offering worship on behalf of creation and dispensing God's blessings upon the created world. I find this all tremendously exciting. The great Christian traditions of East and West coming together with some positive, radical, life-changing contributions towards making this a better world for future generations. But how will our churches in these islands respond? Could we not adopt the Orthodox Church's September 1 day of prayer for the environment? Or develop the St Francis of Assisi feast day to celebrate and pray for creation (as was memorably achieved last year at Arundel cathedral, organised by the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare)? Could not our justice and peace groups become more environmentally active?

The Anglican Church has environmental representatives in every single diocese. Our Bishops' Conference has one part time secretary of an Office for Environmental Justice. Give the environment a whole department. I say. From the fact that this office falls within the Department of International Affairs are we to infer that the problem is one for foreign parts, rather than right here in Britain? The issues surely include town planning, farming, consumer choices, animal welfare, supermarket monopolies, transport policies, waste disposal and recycling, bio-ethics, technology, water pollution, personal life-styles, and much more. All concern the lives of everybody. Those responsible for church and parish properties are consumers of timber, paper, fossil fuels or renewable energy, food and fabric. On what principles are choices made in parishes? When does creation and the environment get a mention in prayers, homilies, study courses?

Let's hope that the bishops of England and Wales apply to themselves the exhortation they made to Catholics at their last conference to pay "close and prayerful attention" to the forthcoming world summit for sustainable development in Johannesburg. The Vatican has already published a strongly worded preparation document for this summit, explaining that "human ecology ... [rests] primarily on ensuring and safeguarding moral conditions in the action of the human being in the environment".

So, let's start acting morally. And let us as Christians both Catholic and Orthodox lead the rest of the world in seeking "human solidarity" (a favourite expression of the Holy Father) through radical commitment to the healing of this bruised and sullied planet.

Deborah Jones is Genenzl Secretary of the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare

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