The Fellowship of Life
From the leading articles in The Tablet dated 2 June 1990:
The beautiful photographs from the Voyager satellite showed the earth as a blue-green gem cloaked in white, against the darkness of space. That is gradually becoming for many people a symbol of their small – and threatened – planet.
The Catholic Church has come late to environmental awareness. Rachel Carson's doomsday warning in her book The Silent Spring was published in April 1962. The Vatican Council which met in October of that year to update the Catholic Church sought to integrate the faith once more with human endeavours and aspirations, and to expand a liberating vision of life. Nevertheless, the bishops who produced those inspired documents were more or less blind to the wounds inflicted on nature in many parts of the world.
Not till Pope John Paul II’s social encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, was published in 1988 did environmental concern finally enter Catholic social teaching, and not till 1 January this year was there a papal document devoted exclusively to the environment. In it the Pope insisted that the ecological crisis was a moral and religious one, insoluble without planetary co-operation.
He said there could be no solution which failed to tackle “the structural forms of poverty that exist throughout the world”, driving the poor to ravage natural resources, and the unsustainable impact of the consumer society with its growth economics. The papal teaching on these matters comes out of a tradition which is deep and strong and long-established and capable of exerting great credibility – on condition that it acknowledges the question raised against its own credibility by the population explosion, and provided it shows itself ready to work with all churches and people of good will in linking concern for justice and peace with concern for the integrity of creation.
If, as the Pope says, the ecological crisis is at root a moral one, then the religions have a special contribution to make. The Sermon on the Mount may contain a code for human survival, working against the assumption that the strong will inherit the earth, supplying counter-motivations to greed and selfishness, inculcating the love of austerity, urging a care for the neighbour which extends to the whole human family and includes future generations in its perspective.
The religious dimension is recognised by secular organisations like
the World Wide Fund for Nature which marked its 25th anniversary in 1986
by inviting leaders of the world religions to a celebration at the tomb
of St Francis of Assisi. There is in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures
a wealth of insight and encouragement for a crusade to preserve the
earth and build just human societies upon it; there is the whole
sacramental dimension; there is the Celtic Church's sensitivity to the
presence of God in creation, the caring tradition of St Benedict's
monks, the kinship for all creatures felt by St Francis of Assisi. Here
is material for a spirituality of creation which can help to guide the
human community and give it hope in the crisis of existence which now
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