VATICAN CITY – The degradation of the environment is a pressing moral problem that threatens peace and human life itself, Pope Benedict XVI said.
“We cannot remain indifferent to what is happening around us, for the deterioration of any one part of the planet affects us all,” the pope said in his message for World Peace Day, Jan. 1, 2010.
Pope Benedict’s message, which was delivered to world leaders by Vatican ambassadors, was released at the Vatican Dec. 15.
Government policies, the activity of multinational corporations and the day-to-day behavior of individuals all have an impact on the environment, the pope said. While the future of the world hangs in the balance because of what people are doing today, the negative effects of pollution and environmental exploitation already can be seen, he said.
“Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions?” the pope asked.
Already, he said, the world is seeing the “growing phenomenon of ‘environmental refugees,’ people who are forced by the degradation of their natural habitat” to migrate in search of food, water and unpolluted air.
“It is becoming more and more evident that the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our lifestyle and the prevailing models of consumption and production, which are often unsustainable from a social, environmental and even economic point of view,” the pope said.
In addition, he warned of the “actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources.”
“Protecting the natural environment in order to build a world of peace is thus a duty incumbent upon each and all. It is an urgent challenge, one to be faced with renewed and concerted commitment; it is also a providential opportunity to hand down to coming generations the prospect of a better future for all,” the pope wrote.
Presenting the message to the press, Cardinal Renato Martino, the recently retired president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said Pope Benedict “does not propose technical solutions or interfere in government policies. Rather, he recalls the church’s commitment to defending the earth, water and air, which are the creator’s gifts to humanity.”
With the real suffering environmental destruction already is causing and the devastation it will wreak in the future, the pope’s message said, “humanity needs a profound cultural renewal; it needs to rediscover those values which can serve as the solid basis for building a brighter future for all.”
“Our present crises – be they economic, food-related, environmental or social – are ultimately also moral crises and all of them are interrelated,” Pope Benedict wrote.
Solving the crises will require people to work together and take responsibility for their individual actions, he said. Specifically, a solution will require “a lifestyle marked by sobriety and solidarity, with new rules and forms of engagement, one which focuses confidently and courageously on strategies that actually work, while decisively rejecting those that have failed.”
Christians believe the entire cosmos was created by God, who drew harmony out of chaos, the pope said. Human sin – Adam and Eve’s desire to take the place of God and their refusal to recognize that they, too, were his creatures – disrupted that harmony.
When the Bible said that God made man and woman in his image and gave them dominion over the earth, the pope said, it meant God called them to be stewards of creation, drawing from the earth what they needed and safeguarding its riches for future generations.
“Sad to say, it is all too evident that large numbers of people in different countries and areas of our planet are experiencing increased hardship because of the negligence or refusal of many others to exercise responsible stewardship over the environment,” the pope said.
Pope Benedict said that because the environmental crisis is global, it must be met with a universal sense of responsibility and solidarity toward people living in other parts of the world as well as toward generations who have not yet been born.
The church’s commitment to environmental protection flows from a religious duty “to protect earth, water and air as gifts of God the creator meant for everyone, and above all to save mankind from the danger of self-destruction,” Pope Benedict said.
The biblical story of creation makes it clear that human beings hold a special, important place in the order of creation, he said, therefore, it is obvious that protecting creation requires protecting human life and dignity first of all.
“The book of nature is one and indivisible; it includes not only the environment but also individual, family and social ethics. Our duties towards the environment flow from our duties towards the person, considered both individually and in relation to others,” he said.
An authentic Christian ecology, one that recognizes the special place of the human person, is one that recognizes “the inviolability of human life at every stage and in every condition, the dignity of the person and the unique mission of the family, where one is trained in love of neighbor and respect for nature,” Pope Benedict said.
Cardinal Martino said Pope Benedict rejects “two extremes” often heard when discussing the environment: one claims that the human person is free to do whatever he wants with the earth and the other claims that the human person is simply one of the many creatures on earth with no special rights. If the person has no special rights, he also does not have special responsibilities, the cardinal said.
The pope ended his message with a plea to “all believers to raise a fervent prayer to God, the all-powerful creator and the father of mercies, so that all men and women may take to heart the urgent appeal: If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.”