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The Pope: we must protect creation

January 5, 2010:

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI has issued his most direct call to action over the environment, saying: “We cannot remain indifferent to what is happening around us, for the deterioration of any one part of the planet affects us all.”

In his most outspoken ecological statement to date, issued for World Day of Peace and addressed to “people of goodwill” everywhere, the Pope said caring for creation was the responsibility of all of us - and neglect of the natural environment was great a threat to peace and prosperity as global terrorism.

We could no longer remain indifferent before problems such as climate change, desertification, water pollution, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation, he said, nor could we ignore the growing phenomenon of ‘environmental refugees’, all of which had a profound impact on human development as well as on the health of the planet.

“Can we remain impassive in the face of actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources?” he asked.

The Pontiff said humanity needed a long-term review of its model of development and a profound cultural renewal in order to build a brighter future for all.

“The ecological health of the planet calls for this, but it is also demanded by the cultural and moral crisis of humanity whose symptoms have for some time been evident in every part of the world,” he said.

“Our present crises – be they economic, food-related, environmental or social – are ultimately also moral crises, and all of them are interrelated.”

The Pope said education for peace must begin with far-reaching decisions on the part of individuals, families, communities and states: “We are all responsible for the protection and care of the environment. This responsibility knows no boundaries.”

This also extended to the Church: “The Church has a responsibility towards creation, and she considers it her duty to exercise that responsibility in public life, in order 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.”

And society had a responsibility towards young people: "Young people cannot be asked to respect the environment if they are not helped, within families and society as a whole, to respect themselves."

Pope Benedict called for a radical rethink of values, to ensure that consumer choices, savings and investments were governed by “the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth".

His Holiness criticised the current pace of environmental exploitation for seriously endangering the supply of certain natural resources for generations to come.

“The environment must be seen as God’s gift to all people, and the use we make of it entails a shared responsibility for all humanity, especially the poor and future generations,” he said.

“Natural resources should be used in such a way that immediate benefits do not have a negative impact on living creatures, human and not, present and future.

“Economic activity needs to consider the fact that every economic decision has a moral consequence and thus show increased respect for the environment.

“When making use of natural resources, we should be concerned for their protection and consider the cost entailed – environmentally and socially – as an essential part of the overall expenses incurred.”

The Pope said industrialised nations had a historical responsibility for the present ecological crisis but added that less developed countries were not exempt from their own responsibilities towards creation.

But the environment was not just the responsibility of states, but of individuals too.

“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," he said.

“Protecting the natural environment in order to build a world of peace is thus a duty incumbent upon each and all.

“Concern for the environment calls for a broad global vision of the world; a responsible common effort to move beyond approaches based on selfish nationalistic interests towards a vision constantly open to the needs of all peoples.”

This was an urgent challenge, he said – but also “a providential opportunity to hand down to coming generations the prospect of a better future for all”.

Reflecting on the Pope's message, Dan Misleh, executive director of the US-based Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, recalled a recent question put to Jesuit theologian Fr John Coleman: "What if our efforts don’t stop climate change and we don’t save the planet from ourselves?"

Fr Coleman said: "That's the wrong question. The right question is: were we faithful to our tradition and our teaching?"

Mr Misleh urged everyone to respond to His Holiness's challenge and "help to answer Fr Coleman’s question affirmatively: in the face of climate change, we were faithful to our teaching and our tradition".

To read the Pope’s message in full, click here

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