Blessed Pope John Paul II and the Environment

Presented by the Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center



"Look to the future with hope, and set out with renewed vigor to make this new millennium a time of solidarity and peace, of love for life and respect for God's creation."

        --May 8, 2001, Pilgrimage to Malta

PopeJohnPaulII hiking

Nature is Our Sister

   Faced with the glory of the Trinity in creation, we must contemplate, sing, and rediscover awe.  Contemporary society has become dry, 'not for lack of wonders, but for lack of wonder' (G.K. Chesterton).  Contemplation of the universe also means, for the believer, listening to a message, hearing a paradoxical and silent voice, as the 'Psalm of the Sun' suggests: 'The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.'  Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.  'There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world' (Ps 19:2-4).

   Nature therefore becomes a Gospel that speaks to us of God: 'For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator' (Wis 13:5).  Paul teaches us that 'Ever since the creation of the world his (God's) eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made' (Rom 1:20).  But this capacity for contemplation and knowledge, this discovery of a transcendent presence in creation, must also lead us also to rediscover our fraternity with the earth, to which we have been linked since creation (cf Gen 2:7).  This very goal was foreshadowed by the Old Testament in the Hebrew Jubilee, when the earth rested and man gathered what the land spontaneously offered (cf Lv 25:11-12).  If nature is not violated and humiliated, it returns to being the sister of humanity.

--General Audience, ZENIT Translation, January 26, 2000

Spokesperson for All Creation

    Although one might think that all created life should be a hymn of praise to the Creator, it is more correct to maintain that the human creature has the primary role in this chorus of praise.  Through the human person, spokesperson for all creation, all living things praise the Lord.  Our breath of life that also presupposes self-knowledge, awareness, and freedom becomes the song and prayer of the whole of life that vibrates in the universe.

GENERAL AUDIENCE , Wednesday 9 January 2002

What is Modern Man Afraid of?

     The man of today seems ever to be under threat from what he produces, that is to say from the result of the work of his hands and, even more so, of the work of his intellect and the tendencies of his will. All too soon, and often in an unforeseeable way, what this manifold activity of man yields is not only subjected to "alienation", in the sense that it is simply taken away from the person who produces it, but rather it turns against man himself, at least in part, through the indirect consequences of its effects returning on himself.  It is or can be directed against him.  This seems to make up the main chapter of the drama of present-day human existence in its broadest and universal dimension.  Man therefore lives increasingly in fear.  He is afraid that what he produces - not all of it, of course, or even most of it, but part of it and precisely that part that contains a special share of his genius and initiative - can radically turn against himself; he is afraid that it can become the means and instrument for an unimaginable self-destruction, compared with which all the cataclysms and catastrophes of history known to us seem to fade away.  This gives rise to a question: Why is it that the power given to man from the beginning by which he was to subdue the earth turns against himself, producing an understandable state of disquiet, of conscious or unconscious fear and of menace, which in various ways is being communicated to the whole of the present-day human family and is manifesting itself under various aspects?

    This state of menace for man from what he produces shows itself in various directions and various degrees of intensity.  We seem to be increasingly aware of the fact that the exploitation of the earth, the planet on which we are living, demands rational and honest planning.  At the same time, exploitation of the earth not only for industrial but also for military purposes and the uncontrolled development of technology outside the framework of a long-range authentically humanistic plan often bring with them a threat to man's natural environment, alienate him in his relations with nature, and remove him from nature.  Man often seems to see no other meaning in his natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption.  Yet it was the Creator's will that man should communicate with nature as an intelligent and noble "master" and "guardian", and not as a heedless "exploiter" and "destroyer"....

    If therefore our time, the time of our generation, the time that is approaching the end of the second millennium of the Christian era, shows itself a time of great progress, it is also seen as a time of threat in many forms for man.  The Church must speak of this threat to all people of good will and must always carry on a dialogue with them about it.  Man's situation in the modern world seems indeed to be far removed from the objective demands of the moral order, from the requirements of justice, and even more of social love.  We are dealing here only with that which found expression in the Creator's first message to man at the moment in which he was giving him the earth, to "subdue" it.  This first message was confirmed by Christ the Lord in the mystery of the Redemption.  This is expressed by the Second Vatican Council in these beautiful chapters of its teaching that concern man's "kingship"; that is to say his call to share in the kingly function - the munus regale - of Christ himself.  The essential meaning of this "kingship" and "dominion" of man over the visible world, which the Creator himself gave man for his task, consists in the priority of ethics over technology, in the primacy of the person over things, and in the superiority of spirit over matter....

--Excerpts from the Encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, from the beginning of Pope John Paul II's Papal Ministry, 1979.

Redemption as a New Creation

    The Redeemer of the world!  In him has been revealed in a new and more wonderful way the fundamental truth concerning creation to which the Book of Genesis gives witness when it repeats several times: "God saw that it was good".  The good has its source in Wisdom and Love.  In Jesus Christ the visible world which God created for man -the world that, when sin entered, "was subjected to futility" -  recovers again its original link with the divine source of Wisdom and Love.  Indeed, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son".  As this link was broken in the man Adam, so in the Man Christ it was reforged.  Are we of the twentieth century not convinced of the overpoweringly eloquent words of the Apostle of the Gentiles concerning the "creation (that) has been groaning in travail together until now" and "waits with eager longing for the revelation of the sons of God", the creation that "was subjected to futility"?  Does not the previously unknown immense progress - which has taken place especially in the course of this century - in the field of man's dominion over the world itself reveal - to a previously unknown degree - that manifold subjection "to futility"?  It is enough to recall certain phenomena, such as the threat of pollution of the natural environment in areas of rapid industrialization, or the armed conflicts continually breaking out over and over again, or the prospectives of self-destruction through the use of atomic, hydrogen, neutron and similar weapons, or the lack of respect for the life of the unborn.  The world of the new age, the world of space flights, the world of the previously unattained conquests of science and technology  - is it not also the world "groaning in travail" that "waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God"?

--Excerpts from the Encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, from the beginning of Pope John Paul II's Papal Ministry, 1979.

PopeJohnPaulIIMan's Responsibility for Life

    To defend and promote life, to show reverence and love for it, is a task which God entrusts to every man, calling him as his living image to share in his own lordship over the world: 'God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth' (Gen 1:28).

    The biblical text clearly shows the breadth and depth of the lordship which God bestows on man.  It is a matter first of all of dominion over the earth and over every living creature, as the Book of Wisdom makes clear:  'O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy... by your wisdom you have formed man, to have dominion over the creatures you have made, and rule the world in holiness and righteousness' (Wis 9:1,2-3).  The Psalmist too extols the dominion given to man as a sign of glory and honor from his Creator:  'You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea' (Ps 8:6-8).

    As one called to till and look after the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15), man has a specific responsibility towards the environment in which he lives, towards the creation which God has put at the service of his personal dignity, of his life, not only for the present but also for future generations.  It is the ecological question--ranging from the preservation of the natural habitats of the different species of animals and of other forms of life to 'human ecology' properly speaking --which finds in the Bible clear and strong ethical direction, leading to a solution which respects the great good of life, of every life.  In fact, 'the dominion' granted to man by the Creator is not an absolute power, nor can one speak of a freedom to 'use and misuse', or to dispose of things as one pleases.  The limitation imposed from the beginning by the Creator himself and expressed symbolically by the prohibition not to 'eat of the fruit of the tree' (cf. Gen 2:16-17) shows clearly enough that, when it comes to the natural world, we are subject not only to biological laws but also to moral ones, which cannot be violated with impunity.

--Evangelium Vitae, Section 42 (1995)

Face of God

    In the era of technology our life risks becoming always more anonymous and merely a function of the production process.  In this way, man becomes incapable of enjoying the beauties of the Creator and to see in them the reflection of the face of God.  

-Sunday message , Italy, July, 1998

On Population Growth

    Clearly,  the question of population is closely linked to that of human promotion, but false solutions that threaten the dignity and inviolability of life abound and present a special challenge to the Church.... It is perhaps appropriate at this point to recall the Church's contribution to the defense and promotion of life through health care, social development, and education to benefit peoples, especially the poor. 

--Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia

Environmental Protection is the Right to Protection of Life  

    The other great problem affecting society today is the environmental question, the problem of ecology.  We all know the causes of this problem.  On the occasion of the recent publication of the Encyclical Centesimus annus, the topic was treated to emphasize that 'in his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow, man consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive and disordered way' (n. 37).  On that occasion I wrote that man cannot 'make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray' (ibid.).  For Brazil, environmental protection is most of all the right to protection of life.  

Signs of Hope

    VATICAN ( --  At his regular weekly audience-- conducted indoors this week, in the Paul VI auditorium-- Pope John Paul II said that the rising concern for preservation of the environment is one of the "signs of hope" which the Holy Spirit provides for our times.

    In Tertio Millennio Adveniente, the Pope had already called for "a livelier sense of responsibility regarding the environment." Quoting from that apostolic letter today, he went on to observe: "Today, mankind has discovered-- largely in reaction to the indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources which has often accompanied industrial development-- the significance and the value of an environment which remains a hospitable home for man, where mankind is destined to live."

    The Holy Father said that environmental dangers force world leaders in science, industry, and government to find new ways to use the earth's resources responsibly. The key challenge, he said, is "not only to limit the damage which has already been done, and apply remedies, but especially to find approaches to development which are in harmony with respect and protection for the natural environment."

    For believers, the Pope continued, preservation of the environment takes on a special importance insofar as the world is seen as the design of the Creator.  Mankind, he pointed out, was commissioned by God to act as steward for the earth's resources, and guardian of God's "creative work."

Mother Nature 

   Once all reference to God has been removed, it is not surprising that the meaning of everything else becomes profoundly distorted.  Nature itself, from being "mater" (mother), is now reduced to being "matter", and is subjected to every kind of manipulation. This is the direction in which a certain technical and scientific way of thinking, prevalent in present-day culture, appears to be leading when it rejects the very idea that there is a truth of creation which must be acknowledged, or a plan of God for life which must be respected. Something similar happens when concern about the consequences of such a "freedom without law" leads some people to the opposite position of a "law without freedom", as for example in ideologies which consider it unlawful to interfere in any way with nature, practically "divinizing" it. Again, this is a misunderstanding of nature's dependence on the plan of the Creator.


PopeJohnPaulII walkingAuthentic Development

    It is not only a question of raising all people to the level currently enjoyed by the richest countries, but rather of building up a more decent life through united labor, of concretely enhancing every individual’s dignity and creativity, as well as his capacity to respond to his personal vocation, and thus to God’s call.  The apex of development is the exercise of the right and duty to seek God, to know him and to live in accordance with that knowledge.... (no. 29)

    It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards 'having' rather than 'being,' and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.  It is therefore necessary to create lifestyles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments....

    Equally worrying is the ecological question which accompanies the problem of consumerism and which is closely connected to it.  In their desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow, people consume the resources of the earth and their own lives in an excessive and disordered way.  At the root of the senseless destruction of the natural environment lies an anthropological error, which unfortunately is widespread in our day.  Humankind, which discovers its capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through its own work, forgets that this is always based on God's prior and original gift of the things that are.  People think that they can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to their wills, as though the earth did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which human beings can indeed develop but must not betray.  Instead of carrying out one's role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, a person sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him....

    In all this, one notes first the poverty or narrowness of the human outlook, motivated as people are by a desire to possess things rather than to relate them to the truth, and lacking that disinterested, unselfish and aesthetic attitude that is born of wonder in the presence of being and of the beauty which enables one to see in visible things the message of the invisible God who created them.  In this regard, humanity today must be conscious of its duties and obligations towards future generations....

    In addition to the irrational destruction of the natural environment, we must also mention the more serious destruction of the human environment, something which is by no means receiving the attention it deserves.  Although people are rightly worried--though much less than they should be--about preserving the natural habitats of the various animal species threatened with extinction, because they realize that each of these species makes its particular contribution to the balance of nature in general, too little effort is made to safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic 'human ecology.'  Not only has God given the earth to humanity, which must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given, but man too is God's gift to man. A person must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed.  In this context, mention should be made of the serious problems of modern urbanization, of the need for urban planning which is concerned with how people are to live, and of the attention which should be given to a 'social ecology' of work....

    Human ingenuity seems to be directed more towards limiting, suppressing or destroying the sources of life--including recourse to abortion, which unfortunately is so widespread in the world--than towards defending and opening up the possibilities of life....

    It is the task of the State to provide for the defense and preservation of common goods such as the natural and human environments, which cannot be safeguarded simply by market forces.  Just as in the time of primitive capitalism the State had the duty of defending the basic rights of workers, so now, with the new capitalism, the State and all of society have the duty of defending those collective goods which, among others, constitute the essential framework for the legitimate pursuit of personal goals on the part of each individual....

    Here we find a new limit on the market: there are collective and qualitative needs which cannot be satisfied by market mechanisms.  There are important human needs which escape its logic.  There are goods which by their very nature cannot and must not be bought or sold. Certainly the mechanisms of the market offer secure advantages: they help to utilize resources better; they promote the exchange of products; above all they give central place to the person's desires and preferences, which, in a contract, meet the desires and preferences of another person.  Nevertheless, these mechanisms carry the risk of an 'idolatry' of the market, an idolatry which ignores the existence of goods which by their nature are not and cannot be mere commodities.

-- Centesimus Annus (37-40)

Biodiversity is Vital for the Balance of the Planet

    The action of believers is more important than ever. Alongside legislative and governmental bodies, all people of good will must work to ensure the effective protection of the environment, understood as a gift from God. How much ecological abuse and destruction there is in many parts of America! It is enough to think of the uncontrolled emission of harmful gases or the dramatic phenomenon of forest fires, sometimes deliberately set by people driven by selfish interest. Devastations such as these could lead to the desertification of many parts of America, with the inevitable consequences of hunger and misery. This is an especially urgent problem in the forests of Amazonia, an immense territory extending into different countries: from Brazil to Guyana, Surinam, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.  This is one of the world's most precious natural regions because of its bio-diversity which makes it vital for the environmental balance of the entire planet.  


The Voice of Creation

    Only the human person, created in the image and likeness of God, is capable of raising a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the Creator.  The earth, with all its creatures, and the entire universe call on man to be their voice.

--Homily, San Antonio, Texas 1987

SunsetMary and the Redemption of Creation

    ...The providential setting of the scene of Mary's Visitation within this exceptionally beautiful city and land reminds me of the Biblical story of creation, which receives its explanation and its fulfillment in the mystery of the Incarnation.  During the days of creation God looked at his handiwork and saw that what he had made was good. It could not be otherwise. The harmony of nature reflected the utter perfection of the Creator.  Finally, God created man.  He created him in his own image and likeness.  He entrusted to him the magnificence of the world so that, by enjoying it and using its goods in a free and rational way, he would cooperate actively in bringing God's work to perfection.  The Scripture says that at that time "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen 1:31). But after man's original fall, the world - as his particular property - came in a sense to share his lot. Sin not only broke the bond of love between man and God and destroyed the unity of mankind, but it also disturbed the harmony of all creation. The shadow of death came down not only on the human race but also on everything that by God's will was meant to exist for man.

    But if we speak of the world sharing in the effects of human sin, we also know that it too could not be deprived of a share in the divine promise of the Redemption.  The time for the fulfillment of this promise for mankind and for all creation arrived when Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, became the Mother of the Son of God.  He is the firstborn of creation (cf. Col 1:15).  Everything created was eternally in him.  In coming to the world, he comes into what is his, as Saint John says (cf. Jn 1:11).  He comes in order to embrace creation anew, to begin the work of the world's redemption, to restore to creation its original holiness and dignity.  He comes to make us see, by his very coming, the particular dignity which belongs to created nature.

    As I make my way across Poland, from the Baltic, through Great Poland, Mazovia, Warmia and Masuria, and then the eastern regions - from the region of Bialystok to that of Zamosc - I contemplate the beauty of this, my native country, and I am reminded of this particular aspect of the saving mission of the Son of God.  Here, the blue of the sky, the green of the woods and fields, the silver of the lakes and rivers, all seem to speak with exceptional power.  Here the song of the birds sounds so very familiar, so Polish.  And all this testifies to the love of the Creator, the life-giving power of his Spirit and the redemption accomplished by the Son for man and for the world.  All these creatures bespeak their holiness and dignity, regained when the One who was "the firstborn of all creation" took flesh from the Virgin Mary.

    If today I speak of this holiness and dignity, I do so in a spirit of thankfulness to God, who has done such great things for us; but I do so likewise in a spirit of concern for the preservation of the goodness and beauty bestowed by the Creator.  For there is a danger that everything that brings such joy to the eye and such exultation to the spirit can be destroyed.  I know that the Polish Bishops voiced this concern ten years ago, appealing to all people of good will in a Pastoral Letter on the protection of the environment.  They rightly wrote that "all man's activity, as the activity of a responsible agent, has a moral dimension. Destruction of the environment harms the good of creation given to man by God the Creator as something indispensable for his life and his development.  We have a duty to make good use of this gift in a spirit of gratitude and respect.  The realization that this gift is destined for all men, that it is a common good, also gives rise to a corresponding duty with regard to others. We therefore need to realize that every action which ignores God's rights over his world, as well as the rights of man bestowed upon him by the Creator, is in conflict with the commandment of love . . . We need to realize therefore that there can be a grave sin against the natural environment, one which weighs on our consciences, and which calls for grave responsibility towards God the Creator" (2 May 1989).

    In speaking of responsibility before God, we know that it is not just a matter of what is nowadays called ecology.  It is not enough to seek the cause of the world's destruction only in excessive industrialization, uncritical applications in industry and agriculture of scientific and technological advances, or in an unbridled pursuit of wealth without concern for the future effects of all these actions.  Although it cannot be denied that these actions do cause great harm, it is easy to see that their source is deeper: it lies in man's very attitude.  It appears that what is most dangerous for creation and for man is lack of respect for the laws of nature and the disappearance of a sense of the value of life.

    The law written by God in nature and capable of being read by reason leads to respect for the Creator's plan, a plan which is meant for the benefit of mankind.  This law establishes a certain inner order which man discovers and which he must preserve. Any activity in conflict with this order inevitably does damage to man himself.

    This happens when the sense of the value of life as such, and of human life in particular, disappears. How can nature be effectively defended if justification is claimed for acts which strike at the very heart of creation, which is human life? Is it really possible to oppose the destruction of the environment while allowing, in the name of comfort and convenience, the slaughter of the unborn and the procured death of the elderly and the infirm, and the carrying out, in the name of progress, of unacceptable interventions and forms of experimentation at the very beginning of human life? When the good of science or economic interests prevail over the good of the person, and ultimately of whole societies, environmental destruction is a sign of a real contempt for man. All who have at heart the good of man in this world need to bear constant witness to the fact that "respect for life, and above all for the dignity of the human person, is the ultimate guiding norm for any sound economic, industrial or scientific progress" (Message for the 1990 World Day of Peace, No. 7)

    "All things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together . . . For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or heaven, making peace by the blood of his Cross" (Col 1:16-17,19-20).  These words of Saint Paul seem to describe the Christian way to defend that good which is the whole created world.  It is the way of reconciliation in Christ. Through the blood of his Cross and through his Resurrection, Christ has restored to creation its original order. Henceforth the whole world, with man at its center, has been snatched from the slavery of death and corruption (cf. Rom 8:21) and in a certain sense has been created anew (cf. Rev 21:5); it now exists no longer for death but for life, for new life in Christ.  Thanks to his union with Christ, man rediscovers his proper place in the world. I n Christ he experiences anew that original harmony which existed between Creator, creation and man before man succumbed to the effects of sin.  In Christ man re-reads his original call to subdue the earth, which is the continuation of God's work of creation rather than the unbridled exploitation of creation.

    The beauty of this land leads me to appeal its preservation for future generations. If you love our native land, do not let this appeal go unanswered! In a special way I call upon those who have been entrusted with responsibility for this country and its development, and I urge them not to neglect their duty of protecting it against environmental destruction. Let them devise programs for the protection of the environment and ensure that they are properly put into effect! Above all, let them train people to show respect for the common good, for the laws of nature and of life! May they be supported by organizations which work for the protection of natural resources! In the family and in the schools there must be training in respect for life, goodness and beauty. All people of good will should cooperate in this great task. All followers of Christ ought to examine their own life-style, to ensure that the legitimate pursuit of prosperity does not suppress the voice of conscience which judges what is right and what is truly good.

    In speaking of respect for the land, I cannot forget those who are most closely linked to it and know its value and dignity.  I think of the farm-workers who, not only here in Zamosc but throughout Poland, perform the hard work in the fields, making them yield the products essential for the life of those living in the cities and villages.  Only those who till the land can really testify that the barren earth does not produce fruit, but when cared for lovingly it is a generous provider. With gratitude and respect I bow before those who for centuries have made this land fruitful by the sweat of their brow, and who - when it was necessary to defend it - did not spare even their blood. With the same gratitude and respect I also speak to all who today are engaged in the hard work of tilling the land.  May God bless the work of your hands!    

    I know that at a time of social and economic changes there are many problems which often painfully affect the Polish countryside. The process of reform needs to recognize the problems of farm-workers and resolve them in the spirit of social justice.

    I speak of this in the land of Zamosc, where the rural question has been discussed for centuries. We need only recall the works of Szymon Szymonowic, or the work of the Rural Society founded in Hrubieszów two hundred years ago. Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, as Bishop of this area and later Primate of Poland, often mentioned the importance of farming for the Nation and the State, and the need for all social groups to show solidarity with the rural communities. Today I cannot fail to take up this tradition. I do so by repeating with the Prophet these words filled with hope: "As the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations" (Is 61:11).

    Let us look to Mary and invoke her in the words of Elizabeth: "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (Lk 1:45).

    Blessed are you, Mary, Mother of the Redeemer.  Today we entrust to you the destiny of the land of Zamosc, of the Polish countryside and of all who live and work there, carrying out the Creator's command to subdue it.  Guide us with your faith in this new era which is opening up before us.  Be with us together with your Son, Jesus Christ, who wishes to be for us the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.

-Liturgy of the Word celebrated in Zamosc, Poland on June 12, 1999

A Delicate Balance

    Pollution of air and water threaten more and more the delicate balance of the biosphere on which present and future generations depend and makes us realize that we all share a common ecological environment.

The Pope in America II (St. Paul: Wanderer Press, 1987), p. 130

Call to Restore Creation

   The lay faithful are called to restore to creation all its original value. In ordering creation to the authentic well-being of humanity in an activity governed by the life of grace, the lay faithful share in the exercise of the power with which the risen Christ draws all things to himself and subjects them along with himself to the Father, so that God might be everything to everyone (cf. 1 Cor 15:28; Jn 12:32)....

    Today in an ever-increasingly acute way, the so-called 'ecological' question poses itself in relation to socio-economic life and work. Certainly humanity has received from God himself the task of 'dominating' the created world and 'cultivating the garden' of the world. But this is a task that humanity must carry out in respect for the divine image received, and, therefore, with intelligence and with love, assuming responsibility for the gifts that God has bestowed and continues to bestow. Humanity has in its possession a gift that must be passed on to future generations, if possible, passed on in better condition. Even these future generations are the recipients of the Lord's gifts: 'The dominion granted to humanity by the Creator is not an absolute power, nor can one speak of a freedom to 'use and misuse,' or to dispose of things as one pleases. The limitation imposed from the beginning by the Creator himself and expressed symbolically by the prohibition not to 'eat of the fruit of the tree' (cf. Gn 2:16-17) shows clearly enough that, when it comes to the natural world, we are subject not only to biological laws but also to moral ones which cannot be violated with impunity. A true concept of development cannot ignore the use of the things of nature, the renewability of resources and the consequences of haphazard industrialization--three considerations which alert our consciences to the moral dimension of development.'

--On the Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and the World (Christifideles Laici); Apostolic Exhortation On the Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and the World CHRISTIFIDELES LAICI; Proclaimed By His Holiness John Paul II Promulgated December 30, 1988

Cosmic Order of Creation

    The fact that in the fullness of time the Eternal Word took on the condition of a creature gives a unique cosmic value to the event which took place in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. Thanks to the Word, the world of creatures appears as a 'cosmos', an ordered universe. And it is the same Word who, by taking flesh, renews the cosmic order of creation. The Letter to the Ephesians speaks of the purpose which God had set forth in Christ, 'as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth' (1:9-10)....

    Christ, the Son who is of one being with the Father, is therefore the one who reveals God's plan for all creation, and for man in particular....In this Man all creation responds to God.  Jesus Christ is the new beginning of everything.  In him all things come into their own; they are taken up and given back to the Creator from whom they first came....All creation is in reality a manifestation of his glory.


Role of Women    

    This is a matter of justice but also of necessity. Women will increasingly play a part in the solution of the serious problems of the future: leisure time, the quality of life, migration, social services, euthanasia, drugs, health care, the ecology, etc.  In all these areas a greater presence of women in society will prove most valuable, for it will help to manifest the contradictions present when society is organized solely according to the criteria of efficiency and productivity, and it will force systems to be redesigned in a way which favors the processes of humanization which mark the "civilization of love".

-Letter to Women, June 29, 1995


    Many people now are tempted to self-indulgence and consumerism, the human identity is often defined by what one owns. Thus they can become more selfish in their demands.

Phoenix Park, Ireland, from September 29 to October 1, 1979

World from Space

    From the time that we were first able to see pictures of the world from space, a perceptible change has taken place in our understanding of our planet, and of its immense beauty and fragility.

--Message for the World Day of Peace, January 1987

A Welcome Sign

    Another welcome sign is the growing attention being paid to the quality of life and to ecology, especially in more developed societies, where people's expectations are no longer concentrated so much on problems of survival as on the search for an overall improvement of living conditions.


Disoriented by Consumerism

    In many young people, disoriented by consumerism and by the crisis in ideals, the search for an authentic lifestyle can mature, if it is sustained by a coherent and joyful witness of the Christian community in its openness to listen to the cry of a world thirsting for truth and justice.

Message for World Day of Prayer for Vocations, August 15, 1995

Communication Implies Responsibility

    Your work can be a force for great good or great evil. You yourselves know the dangers, as well as the splendid opportunities open to you. Communication products can be works of great beauty, revealing what is noble and uplifting in humanity and promoting what is just and fair and true. On the other hand communications can appeal to and promote what is debased in people: dehumanized sex through pornography or through a casual attitude toward sex and human life; greed through materialism and consumerism or irresponsible individualism; anger and vengefulness through violence or self-righteousness. All the media of popular culture which you represent can build or destroy, uplift or cast down. You have untold possibilities for good, ominous possibilities for destruction. It is the difference between death and life – the death or life of the spirit. And it is a matter of choice. The challenge of Moses to the people of Israel is applicable to all of us today: "I set before you life and death.... Choose life" (Dt 30:19).

Address to 1,600 policy makers in television, radio, motion pictures and the print media – Registry Hotel, Los Angeles, September 15, 1987

Authentic Development

    Among today's positive signs we must also mention a greater realization of the limits of available resources, and of the need to respect the integrity and the cycles of nature and to take them into account when planning for development, rather than sacrificing them to certain demagogic ideas about the latter. Today this is called ecological concern....

    Thus, all is not negative in the contemporary world, nor could it be, for the Heavenly Father's Providence lovingly watches over even our daily cares (cf. Mt 6: 25-32; 10: 23-31; Lk 12: 6-7; 22-30). Indeed, the positive values which we have mentioned testify to a new moral concern, particularly with respect to the great human problems such as development and peace.

    This fact prompts me to turn my thoughts to the true nature of the development of peoples, along the lines of the Encyclical which we are commemorating, and as a mark of respect for its teaching.

    The examination which the Encyclical invites us to make of the contemporary world leads us to note in the first place that development is not a straightforward process, as it were automatic and in itself limitless, as though, given certain conditions, the human race were able to progress rapidly towards an undefined perfection of some kind.

    Such an idea linked to a notion of "progress" with philosophical connotations deriving from the Enlightenment, rather than to the notion of "development" which is used in a specifically economic and social sense now seems to be seriously called into doubt, particularly since the tragic experience of the two world wars, the planned and partly achieved destruction of whole peoples, and the looming atomic peril. A naive mechanistic optimism has been replaced by a well-founded anxiety for the fate of humanity.

    At the same time, however, the "economic" concept itself, linked to the word development, has entered into crisis. In fact there is a better understanding today that the mere accumulation of goods and services, even for the benefit of the majority, is not enough for the realization of human happiness. Nor, in consequence, does the availability of the many real benefits provided in recent times by science and technology, including the computer sciences, bring freedom from every form of slavery. On the contrary, the experience of recent years shows that unless all the considerable body of resources and potential at man's disposal is guided by a moral understanding and by an orientation towards the true good of the human race, it easily turns against man to oppress him.

    A disconcerting conclusion about the most recent period should serve to enlighten us: side-by-side with the miseries of underdevelopment, themselves unacceptable, we find ourselves up against a form of superdevelopment, equally inadmissible, because like the former it is contrary to what is good and to true happiness. This superdevelopment, which consists in an excessive availability of every kind of material goods for the. benefit of certain social groups, easily makes people slaves of "possession" and of immediate gratification, with no other horizon than the multiplication or continual replacement of the things already owned with others still better. This is the so-called civilization of "consumption" or "consumerism", which involves so much "throwing-away" and "waste". An object already owned but now superseded by something better is discarded, with no thought of its possible lasting value in itself, nor of some other human being who is poorer.

    All of us experience firsthand the sad effects of this blind submission to pure consumerism: in the first place a crass materialism, and at the same time a radical dissatisfaction, because one quickly learns unless one is shielded from the flood of publicity and the ceaseless and tempting offers of products that the more one possesses the more one wants, while deeper aspirations remain unsatisfied and perhaps even stifled.

    The Encyclical of Pope Paul VI pointed out the difference, so often emphasized today, between "having" and "being",[51] which had been expressed earlier in precise words by the Second Vatican Council.[52] To "have" objects and goods does not in itself perfect the human subject, unless it contributes to the maturing and enrichment of that subject's "being", that is to say unless it contributes to the realization of the human vocation as such.

    Of course, the difference between "being" and "having", the danger inherent in a mere multiplication or replacement of things possessed compared to the value of "being", need not turn into a contradiction. One of the greatest injustices in the contemporary world consists precisely in this: that the ones who possess much are relatively few and those who possess almost nothing are many. It is the injustice of the poor distribution of the goods and services originally intended for all.

    This then is the picture: there are some people the few who possess much who do not really succeed in "being" because, through a reversal of the hierarchy of values, they are hindered by the cult of "having"; and there are others the many who have little or nothing--who do not succeed in realizing their basic human vocation because they are deprived of essential goods.

    The evil does not consist in "having" as such, but in possessing without regard for the quality and the ordered hierarchy of the goods one has. Quality and hierarchy arise from the subordination of goods and their availability to man's "being" and his true vocation.

    This shows that although development has a necessary economic dimension, since it must supply the greatest possible number of the world's inhabitants with an availability of goods essential for them "to be", it is not limited to that dimension. If it is limited to this, then it turns against those whom it is meant to benefit.

    The characteristics of full development, one which is "more human" and able to sustain itself at the level of the true vocation of men and women without denying economic requirements, were described by Paul VI.[53]

    Development which is not only economic must be measured and oriented according to the reality and vocation of man seen in his totality, namely, according to his interior dimension. There is no doubt that he needs created goods and the products of industry, which is constantly being enriched by scientific and technological progress. And the ever greater availability of material goods not only meets needs but also opens new horizons. The danger of the misuse of material goods and the appearance of artificial needs should in no way hinder the regard we have for the new goods and resources placed at our disposal and the use we make of them. On the contrary, we must see them as a gift from God and as a response to the human vocation, which is fully realized in Christ.

    However, in trying to achieve true development we must never lose sight of that dimension which is in the specific nature of man, who has been created by God in his image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). It is a bodily and a spiritual nature, symbolized in the second creation account by the two elements: the earth, from which God forms man's body, and the breath of life which he breathes into man's nostrils (cf. Gen 2:7).

    Thus man comes to have a certain affinity with other creatures: he is called to use them, and to be involved with them. As the Genesis account says (cf. Gen 2:15), he is placed in the garden with the duty of cultivating and watching over it, being superior to the other creatures placed by God under his dominion (cf. Gen 1:2526). But at the same time man must remain subject to the will of God, who imposes limits upon his use and dominion over things (cf. Gen 2:16-17), just as he promises him immortality (cf. Gen 2:9; Wis 2:23). Thus man, being the image of God, has a true affinity with him too.

    On the basis of this teaching, development cannot consist only in the use, dominion over and indiscriminate possession of created things and the products of human industry, but rather in subordinating the possession, dominion and use to man's divine likeness and to his vocation to immortality. This is the transcendent reality of the human being, a reality which is seen to be shared from the beginning by a couple, a man and a woman (cf. Gen 1: 27), and is therefore fundamentally social.

    According to Sacred Scripture therefore, the notion of development is not only "lay" or "profane", but is also seen to be, while having a socioeconomic dimension of its own, the modern expression of an essential dimension of man's vocation.

    The fact is that man was not created, so to speak, immobile and static. The first portrayal of him, as given in the Bible, certainly presents him as a creature and image, defined in his deepest reality by the origin and affinity that constitute him. But all this plants within the human being man and woman the seed and the requirement of a special task to be accomplished by each individually and by them as a couple. The task is "to have dominion" over the other created beings, "to cultivate the garden". This is to be accomplished within the framework of obedience to the divine law and therefore with respect for the image received, the image which is the clear foundation of the power of dominion recognized as belonging to man as the means to his perfection (cf. Gen 1:26-30; 2:15-16; Wis 9:2-3).

Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, December 30, 1987

Environmental Protection is an Integral Aspect of Development

    The protection of the natural environment has become a new and integral aspect of the development issue. When we pay proper attention to its ecological dimension, the struggle against hunger appears even more complex, and calls for the establishment of new bonds of solidarity.  Concern for ecology, seen in connection with the process of development and in particular the requirements of production, demands first of all that in every economic enterprise there be a rational and calculated use of resources. It has become increasingly evident that an indiscriminate use of available natural goods, with harm to the primary sources of energy and resources and to the natural environment in general , entails a serious moral responsibility. Not only the present generation but also future generations are affected by such actions.

    Economic activity carries with it the obligation to use the goods of nature reasonably. But it also involves the grave moral obligation both to repair damage already inflicted on nature and to prevent any negative effects which may later arise. A more careful control of possible consequences on the natural environment is required in the wake of industrialization, especially in regard to toxic residue, and in those areas marked by an excessive use of chemicals in agriculture.

    The relationship between problems of development and ecology also demands that economic activity project and accept the expenses entailed by environmental protection measures demanded by the community, be it local or global, in which that activity takes place. Such expenses must not be accounted as an incidental surcharge, but rather as an essential element of the actual cost of economic activity. The result will be a more limited profit than was possible in the past, as well as the acknowledgment of new costs deriving from environmental protection. Those costs must be taken into account both in the management of individual businesses and in nation-wide programs of economic and financial policy, which must now be approached in the perspective of regional and world economy.

    In the end, we are called to operate beyond narrow national self-interest and a sectorial defense of the prosperity of particular groups and individuals. These new criteria and costs must find their place in the projected budgets of programs of economic and financial policy for all countries, both the developed and the developing.

    Today, there is a rising awareness that the adoption of measures to protect the environment implies a real and necessary solidarity among nations. It is becoming more apparent that an effective solution to the problems raised by the risk of atomic and atmospheric pollution and the deterioration of the general conditions of nature and human life can be provided only on the world level. This in turn entails a recognition of the increasing interdependence which characterizes our age. Indeed, it is increasingly evident that development policies demand a genuine international cooperation, carried out in accord with decisions made jointly and within the context of a universal vision, one which considers the good of the human family in both the present generation and in those to come.


Stewardship Over Nature

    It is a requirement of our human dignity, and therefore a serious responsibility, to exercise dominion over creation in such a way that it truly serves the human family.  Exploitation of the riches of nature must take place according to criteria that take into account not only the immediate needs of people but also of future generations.  In this way, the stewardship over nature, entrusted by God to man, will not be guided by short-sightedness or selfish pursuits: rather, it will take into account the fact that all created goods are directed to the good of all humanity.

--United Nations Centre for the Environment, Nairobi, August 1985



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