With the foundations set by his papal encyclical, Laudato Si’, on the importance of environmental stewardship, Pope Francis calls for a deeper understanding of ecological respect.
There’s a lot of highly negative criticism on social media about Pope Francis’ remarks on including “ecological sin” to Church teaching. Similarly, In October, during the Amazon Synod, the group of leaders expressed a desire for an “ecological conversion,” which caused an uproar. For the most part, many consider these concepts as theologically irrelevant or a superstitious left-wing concern to supplant the tradition of the Church.
Within the Catholic Church, there can be a much-needed debate on what the terms mean or if such terms/definitions should be considered a mortal sin or even added to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. However, at the heart of Pope Francis’ call for the world is to be more environmentally aware. That’s neither “liberal” nor “conservative” or “heretical.” It’s about being a steward of God’s creation and treating the environment fairly, which is an essential part of Catholic Social Teaching.
A Global Concern
There are many countries considered “Third World” that are bastions for the world’s waste. A lot of these countries have innocent children and families that sort through cancerous gas-filled junkyards to make a living by finding scraps. Electronic waste, or e-waste, is a growing global concern for many countries in Africa and Asia. Electronics discarded by us wealthier countries somehow arrive in their backyards.
According to Tearfund, a global Christian charity that focuses on lifting people out of poverty estimates that between 400,000 and 1 million people die each year in developing countries because of diseases related to mismanaged waste. Think about that number. That is anywhere between the populations of Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Delaware, obliterated by global pollution and environmental degradation. With this daunting number, we must confront this staggering issue as a crisis in public health that can destroy the dignity and quality of life for countless people of goodwill.
A Domestic Threat
A lot of American cities wrestle with severely damaged infrastructure (sewer systems and water supply), ignorance of improper recycling, and everyday emissions from vehicles. For this reason, the occasional environmental injustice litigation (think PG&E Hinkley water contamination case made popular by the film Erin Brockovich) frequently appears in the courts. Us in wealthier countries have the privilege of not having pollution, junkyards of cancer, or waste streaming down our water supply compared to places like Ghana or India. Thankfully, our sanitation, government regulations, and oversights protect our welfare.
Please don’t forget about Flint, Michigan, and their water crisis in the mid-2010s. The ripple effect of this catastrophic public health crisis will have unprecedented consequences for generations but are understanding the full extent of the water contamination. According to Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician in Flint, slowly, this crisis is being manifested! Dr. Mona performed research on children in Flint and discovered that the percentage of children qualifying for special education services has increased because of exposure to lead. These, too, are ecological considerations corporations, forms of government, and Christians need to consider as stewards of God’s creation.
Pope Francis has opened the door to a conversation that all people need to be aware of: to be concerned about the environment isn’t a partisan or “heretical” issue but one that revolves around our common concern for our home. We all share in caring for the planet. If we, namely Christians, do this correctly, we don’t have to worry about environmentalists radically defining and altering how we live.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.Matthew 28:19-20 (RSVCE)
The Catholic Church has authoritative power to define faith and morals. It has done so consistently through the ages on various pressing concerns such as labor and capital, contraception, and the dignity of life. As he has done in his encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis wants Catholics, and the world for that matter, to understand what it means to care for the environment truly. The world has dire problems that are widespread, and only a proper understanding of ecology rooted in Sacred Scripture and tradition of the Church can help us genuinely care for our planet. By immersing ourselves in both, we can avoid issues such as climate change, reducing the earth to unregulated profit hunt, and destroying the dignity of life.
Sure, the Church has Catholic Social Teaching, but what we need is a profound conversion to grapple the desperate spiritual and moral dilemma of our day: How do we relate to our planet in an authentically Christ-like manner? For this reason, a spiritual renewal that signifies solidarity with those that are in insufferable abject conditions is required. It is no surprise that God has a preference for the poor and downtrodden (Matt 25:31-46), and this should not alarm any Christian committed toward equitable treatment for everyone. If we understand this eternal and scriptural lesson from our Lord, fighting for environmental justice will follow.