When it became evident, on the evening of March 13th, five years ago, that my brother Cardinals had chosen me to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, my close friend Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who sat beside me in the Conclave, embraced me and said: “Don’t forget the poor”.
These words brought to my mind St Francis of Assisi and in that moment I understood that as Pope I wanted to adopt his name. By his own life and example, the Poverello of Assisi, as St Francis is commonly called, shows us the love of God for the poor. And in that moment I recalled “my own” poor, those whom I had left in Buenos Aires.
There is a relationship between poverty, violence and environmental decay.
St Francis understood this and for that reason he knew how to communicate with the whole of creation, recognizing nature as the “splendid book in which God speaks to us and shows us something of His own beauty and goodness”. In Francis the concern for nature, for justice towards the poor, for an engagement with society and for interior peace are inseparable elements. He teaches that the world is intimately connected and his intuition becomes ever more evident in the globalized context in which we find ourselves.
The importance of not neglecting our beloved planet has already been underlined by my Predecessors. Pope St John Paul II, recalling the mutual relationship between humanity and the environment, which in ancient times was one of admiration and veneration, mixed with fear and wonder, but which has become one of conquest and an invasive exploitation of resources, observed that “the environment as a ‘resource’ risks endangering the environment as a ‘home’”.
The human race has moved from an attitude of respect for nature to the exercise of an egoistic power over it, that not only damages the ecosystem but disfigures humanity itself. When one undermines, at its basis, the relationship of humanity with the earth, one ends up endangering human relationships themselves. Blessed Pope Paul VI had earlier stressed this point, recalling that through an ill-considered exploitation of nature, man “risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation. Not only is the material environment becoming a permanent menace – pollution and refuse, new illness and absolute destructive capacity – but the human framework is no longer under man’s control, thus creating an environment for tomorrow which may well be intolerable.
This is a wide-ranging social problem that concerns the entire human family”.
More recently, Benedict XVI “asked us to recognize that the natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behaviour”.
His reminder is as clear as the imbalances that our current lifestyles have introduced into the relationship between humankind and nature.
We need, therefore, “to eliminate the structural causes of global economic dysfunction and to correct the models of growth that appear incapable of guaranteeing respect for the environment”. This
means that “technologically advanced societies must be prepared to encourage more sober lifestyles, while reducing their own energy consumption and improving its efficiency”.
Pope Benedict suggests that “there is need for what might be called a human ecology, correctly understood. The deterioration of nature is in fact closely connected to the culture that shapes human coexistence: when human ecology is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits”.
Everyone takes care of his own home. And when many people share the same home, each one must take particular responsibility to promote a good common life for all.
Those with greater strength must take care of those who are weaker.
The process of globalization has clearly shown us that the entire world is our common home.
No one may pretend that our actions have merely localized repercussions. On the contrary, each person’s actions affect everyone else, so that all of us must take to heart the fate of the environment in which we live. I think each of us must answer this question: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?”
We see almost daily how the exploitation of the environment can cause tyranny, injustice and conflict.
An ecological conversion is needed, which can introduce a dynamism for lasting change and can direct human creativity and enthusiasm towards the common good, in order to resolve the great problems of the world, instead of causing new ones.
Properly understood, this does not mean levelling all living creatures and removing from the human person those peculiarities that make him unique and that imply, at the same time, a great responsibility.
Nor does it mean an attempt to “divinise” the earth, which would remove our responsibility and hamper further collaboration in protecting its fragility.
These two conceptions are extremes that do not represent a true conversion, but, on the contrary, could open the way to new imbalances and provide an excuse to dodge the demands placed before us by the concrete reality.
Ecological conversion requires that the human race, beginning with those who have political and economic responsibility, recognize the necessity of changing the way it organises its life; but even more intimately, that it undergo a change heart.
Here too, in the face of grave environmental problems, we need to transform our hearts of stone, so full of selfishness, into hearts of flesh (cfr. Ez 36:26) that are capable of opening themselves in solidarity to others, above all towards the poor and the suffering.
In that perspective, I intend to call a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region, which will take place in Rome in October 2019.
It will manifest the attention of the Church towards the peoples of that region, “especially the indigenous peoples, often forgotten and without the prospect of a peaceful future, also due to the crisis of the Amazon rainforest, the lungs of paramount importance for our planet”
Climate change, which is related to the indiscriminate exploitation of resources initiated by the industrial revolution of the 18th century, is one of the environmental problems of our time and a challenge that we must face together.
That is why the Paris Climate Agreement represents an historic moment, in as much as all the leaders present in Paris agreed to a real commitment in confronting climate change.
It is truly global not only because of the large number of signatories, but also because
it shows a largeness of vision in approaching the question. Certain principals dear to the Holy See are present in the Paris Agreement such as fairness, common but differentiated responsibility, the importance of education, sustainable development and the eradication of poverty.
The Agreement is also attentive to the poorest and the most vulnerable realities and offers a clear signal in favour of a transition to a model of economic development based on low carbon consumption.
I am delighted that the efforts of the Holy See, and of the Catholic Church, to awaken consciences to the urgency of caring for the creation with which God has entrusted humankind have contributed to forging such a large convergence. And I trust that those who nurture scepticism about the possibility of an effective outcome from the Paris Agreement can at least recognise the result obtained: when good will prevails among us, we can journey together towards important goals. How I should like to see that same will applied to the numerous open questions in our world, beginning with the search for peace in beloved Syria!
From the Vatican, 23 May 2018
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