PEACE WITH GOD THE CREATOR, PEACE WITH ALL OF CREATION
Blessed John Paul II
III. IN SEARCH OF A SOLUTION
8. Theology, philosophy, and science all speak of a harmonious universe, of a "cosmos" endowed with its own integrity, its own internal, dynamic balance. THIS ORDER MUST BE RESPECTED. The human race is called to explore this order, to examine it with due care and to make use of it while safeguarding its integrity.
On the other hand, the earth is ultimately A COMMON HERITAGE, THE FRUITS OF WHICH ARE FOR THE BENEFIT OF ALL. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, "God destined the earth and all it contains for the use of every individual and all peoples" (Gaudium et Spes, 69). This has direct consequences for the problem at hand. It is manifestly unjust that a privileged few should continue to accumulate excess goods, squandering available resources, while masses of people are living in conditions of misery at the very lowest level of subsistence. Today, the dramatic threat of ecological breakdown is teaching us the extent to which greed and selfishness—both individual and collective—are contrary to the order of creation, an order which is characterized by mutual interdependence.
9. The concepts of an ordered universe and a common heritage both point to the necessity of a MORE INTERNATIONALLY COORDINATED APPROACH TO THE MANAGEMENT OF THE EARTH'S GOODS. In many cases the effects of ecological problems transcend the borders of individual States; hence their solution cannot be found solely on the national level. Recently there have been some promising steps towards such international action, yet the existing mechanisms and bodies are clearly not adequate for the development of a comprehensive plan of action. Political obstacles, forms of exaggerated nationalism and economic interests—to mention only a few factors—impede international cooperation and long-term effective action.
The need for joint action on the international level DOES NOT LESSEN THE RESPONSIBILITY OF EACH INDIVIDUAL STATE. Not only should each State join with others in implementing internationally accepted standards, but it should also make or facilitate necessary socio-economic adjustments within its own borders, giving special attention to the most vulnerable sectors of society. The State should also actively endeavor within its own territory to prevent destruction of the atmosphere and biosphere, by carefully monitoring, among other things, the impact of new technological or scientific advances. The State also has the responsibility of ensuring that its citizens are not exposed to dangerous pollutants or toxic wastes. THE RIGHT TO A SAFE ENVIRONMENT is ever more insistently presented today as a right that must be included in an updated Charter of Human Rights.
IV. THE URGENT NEED FOR A NEW SOLIDARITY
10. The ecological crisis reveals the URGENT MORAL NEED FOR A NEW SOLIDARITY, especially in relations between the developing nations and those that are highly industrialized. States must increasingly share responsibility, in complimentary ways, for the promotion of a natural and social environment that is both peaceful and healthy.
The newly industrialized States cannot, for example, be asked to apply restrictive environmental standards to their emerging industries unless the industrialized States first apply them within their own boundaries. At the same time, countries in the process of industrialization are not morally free to repeat the errors made in the past by others, and recklessly continue to damage the environment through industrial pollutants, radical deforestation, or unlimited exploitation of non-renewable resources. In this context, there is urgent need to find a solution to the treatment and disposal of toxic wastes.
No plan or organization, however, will be able to effect the necessary changes unless world leaders are truly convinced of the absolute need for this new solidarity, which is demanded of them by the ecological crisis and which is essential for peace. THIS NEED PRESENTS NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR STRENGTHENING COOPERATIVE AND PEACEFUL RELATIONS AMONG STATES.
11. It must also be said that the proper ecological balance will not be found without DIRECTLY ADDRESSING THE STRUCTURAL FORMS OF POVERTY that exist throughout the world. Rural poverty and unjust land distribution in many countries, for example, have led to subsistence farming and to the exhaustion of the soil. Once their land yields no more, many farmers move on to clear new land, thus accelerating uncontrolled deforestation, or they settle in urban centers which lack the infrastructure to receive them. Likewise, some heavily indebted countries are destroying their natural heritage, at the price of irreparable ecological imbalances, in order to develop new products for export. In the fact of such situations it would be wrong to assign the responsibility to the poor alone for the negative environmental consequences of their actions. Rather, the poor, to whom the earth is entrusted no less than to others, must be enabled to find a way out of their poverty.
This will require a courageous reform of structures, as well as new ways of relating among peoples and States.
12. But there is another dangerous menace which threatens us, namely, war. Unfortunately, modern science already has the capacity to change the environment for hostile purposes.
Alterations of this kind over the long term could have unforeseeable and still more serious consequences. Despite the international agreements which prohibit chemical, bacteriological and biological warfare, the fact is that laboratory research continues to develop new offensive weapons capable of altering the balance of nature.
Today, any form of war on a global scale would lead to incalculable ecological damage. But even local or regional wars, however, limited, not only destroy human life and social structures, but also damage the land, ruining crops and vegetation as well as poisoning soil and water. The survivors of war are forced to begin a new life in very difficult environmental conditions, which in turn create situations of extreme social unrest, with further negative consequences for the environment.
13. Modern society will find no solution to the ecological problem unless it TAKES A SERIOUS LOOK AT IS LIFESTYLE. In many parts of the world society is given to instant gratification and consumerism while remaining indifferent to the damage which these cause. As I have already stated, the seriousness of the ecological issue lays bare the depth of man's moral crisis. If an appreciation of the value of the human person and of human life is lacking, we will also lose interest in others and in the earth itself. Simplicity, moderation and discipline, as well as a spirit of sacrifice, must become a part of everyday life, lest all suffer the negative consequences of the careless habits of a few.
AN EDUCATION IN ECOLOGICAL RESPONSIBILITY is urgent: responsibility for oneself, for others and for the earth. This education cannot be rooted in mere sentiment or empty wishes. Its purpose cannot be ideological or political. It must not be based on a rejection of the modern world or a vague desire to return to some "paradise lost". Instead, a true education in responsibility entails a genuine conversion in ways of thought and behavior.
Churches and religious bodies, non-governmental and governmental organizations, indeed all members of society, have a precise role to play in such education. The first educator, however, is the family, where the child learns to respect his neighbor and to love nature.
14. FINALLY, THE AESTHETIC VALUE OF CREATION CANNOT BE OVERLOOKED. Our very contact with nature has a deep restorative power; contemplation of its magnificence imparts peace and serenity. The Bible speaks again and again of the goodness and beauty of creation, which is called to glorify God (cf. Gen 1:4ff; Ps 8:2; 104:1ff; Wis 13:3-5; Sir 39:16, 33; 43:1, 9). More difficult perhaps, but no less profound, is the contemplation of the works of human ingenuity. Even cities can have a beauty all their own, one that ought to motivate people to care for their surroundings. Good urban planning is an important part of environmental protection, and respect for the natural contours of the land is an indispensable prerequisite for ecologically sound development. The relationship between a good aesthetic education and the maintenance of a healthy environment cannot be overlooked.
V. THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS: A COMMON RESPONSIBILITY
15. Today the ecological crisis has assumed such proportions as to be THE RESPONSIBILITY OF EVERYONE. As I have pointed out, its various aspects demonstrate the need for concerted efforts aimed at establishing the duties and obligations that belong to individuals, peoples, States and international community. This not only goes hand in hand with efforts to build true peace, but also confirms and reinforces those efforts in a concrete way. When the ecological crisis is set within the broader context of THE SEARCH FOR PEACE within society, we can understand better the importance of giving attention to what the earth and its atmosphere are telling us: namely, that there is an order in the universe which must be respected, and that the human person, endowed with the capability of choosing freely, has a grave responsibility to preserve this order for the well-being of future generations. I wish to repeat that THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS IS A MORAL ISSUE.
Even men and women without any particular religious conviction, but with an acute sense of their responsibilities for the common good, recognize their obligation to contribute to the restoration of a healthy environment. All the more should men and women who believe in God the Creator, and who are thus convinced that there is a well-defined unity and order in the world, feel called to address the problem. Christians, in particular, realize that their responsibility within creation and their duty towards nature and the Creator are an essential part of their faith. As a result, they are conscious of a vast field of ecumenical and interreligious cooperation opening up before them.
16. At the conclusion of this Message, I should like to address directly my brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church, in order to remind them of their serious obligation to care for all creation. The commitment of believers to a healthy environment for everyone stems directly from their belief in God the Creator, from their recognition of the effects of original and personal sin, and from the certainty of having been redeemed by Christ. Respect for life and for the dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of creation, which is called to join man in praising God (cf. Ps 148:96).
In 1979, I proclaimed Saint Francis of Assisi as the heavenly patron of those who promote ecology (cf. Apostolic Letter Inter Sanctos: AAS 71 , 1509f). He offers Christians an example of genuine and deep respect for the integrity of creation. As a friend of the poor who was loved by God's creatures, Saint Francis invited all of creation—animals, plants, natural forces, even Brother Sun and Sister Moon—to give honor and praise to the Lord. The poor man of Assisi gives us striking witness that when we are at peace with God we are better able to devote ourselves to building up that peace with all creation which is inseparable from peace among all peoples.
It is my hope that the inspiration of Saint Francis will help us to keep ever alive a sense of "fraternity" with all those good and beautiful things which Almighty God has created. And my he remind us of our serious obligation to respect and watch over them with care, in light of that greater and higher fraternity that exists within the human family.
From the Vatican, 8 December 1989
To read ecological quotes from Pope John Paul II on this site,
by Sister Marjorie Keenan, MSHM
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