Valuing God’s Creation

Coastline in Ardgalass, County Down, Northern Ireland

In February 2005, more than 2,000 poor Brazilian farmers walked to the remote jungle town of Anapu for the funeral of a Catholic nun whom they called the “angel of Trans-Amazonia”. The “angel” had been murdered on a forest path after being intercepted by two gunmen who fired six bullets into her. One of the mourners, Fernando Anjos da Silva, said he felt as if he had lost a mother, because the dead woman had helped him to get medical care after a logging accident. “I feel like a river without water, a forest without trees” he reflected. Police said at the time that a group of Brazilian landowners may have pooled $24,000 to hire the gunmen who carried out the killing. But why had this 73-year-old nun from Dayton, Ohio, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, engendered such hatred?

She had spent the last 23 years of her life defending poor settlers against powerful logging and ranching interests in the Amazon rainforest? And she struggled to protect the rainforest trees, often wearing a tee-shirt saying, “The End of the Forest is the end of our lives”. Rainforests are important globally for absorbing carbon and reducing the impact of climate change. Sr Dorothy was inspired by the life of Jesus, who showed great love for the poor and vulnerable, and by Catholic Social Teaching which urges care for the poor and for God’s creation. Many ‘green’ Christians regard her as an environmental martyr, a new type of martyr in the twenty-first century.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales produced a document The Call of Creation in 2002 which urged us to see ourselves as stewards of God’s creation and to safeguard natural resources for future generations. Global warming is addressed specifically in the Vatican’s Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (paragraph 470) which says the relationship between human activity and global warming must be constantly monitored for “the climate is a good that must be protected”.

Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have spoken of the need for “ecological conversion”. The first took as his theme for World Peace Day in 1990: Peace with God the Creator, Peace with all of Creation. The pope who loved to walk in the mountains, stated that, “a new ecological awareness is beginning to emerge which, rather than being downplayed, ought to be encouraged to develop into concrete programmes and initiatives”. He condemned the squandering of finite resources while millions lived in poverty, describing the ecological crisis as “a moral issue”. Pope Benedict XVI reflected in his 2008 World Peace Day message that “respecting the environment does not mean considering material or animal nature more important than man, but, rather, it means not selfishly considering nature to be at the complete disposal of our own interests”.

Fruit of the Earth

The Church’s Social Teaching theme of Safeguarding Creation has been picked up by Catholic agencies, dioceses, parishes and schools. The Catholic development agencies in Europe, including CAFOD and SCIAF, are running Climate Change campaigns. Catholic parishes and schools are joining the Eco-congregation and Eco-schools initiatives. Some are placing solar panels on their premises.

• See the ‘Catholic Social Teaching’ section of Justice and Peace and Justice and Peace Scotland and find: Sacramentatum Caritatis – ‘”The Sacrament of Charity” (2007), Pope Benedict XVI; Pope’s World Peace Day Message 1990; The Call of Creation, Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, 2002; Pope’s World Peace Day Message, 2008

• Look up Christian Ecology, Eco Congregation and Eco Schools and take up some of the ideas, including liturgy suggestions. Minimise energy consumption, support locally produced food, and appreciate the living things that share your environment.

Photo: Coastline in Ardglass, County Down, Northern Ireland. [Photo credit: Catherine Waters Clark]