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'It is necessary, therefore, to stimulate and sustain the "ecological conversion," which over these last decades has made humanity more sensitive when facing the catastrophe toward which it was moving.'

Pope John Paul II General Audience Address, January 17, 2001

The Egret has landed (again)

Photograph of a bird

Last summer I wrote about bird watching and spirituality stimulated by having seen a Little Egret whilst on retreat. I have recently learned that this last summer Little Egrets have bred in the Wash. My earlier piece focussed on prayer and observation and the openness to be surprised; today I feel obliged to note that changing patterns of bird breeding demonstrate changing climate and changing ecosystems. It is one thing to enjoy the wonder of a beautiful creature; it is another to ask why it is now becoming established in a new habitat. From Cornwall to the Solent to the Wash, with the presence of breeding colonies of Egrets we are seeing the Northward movement of Global warming.

In 1971 Catholic bishops in Synod declared: ‘[A]ction on behalf of justice, and participation in the transformation of the world fully appears to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel - or in other words, of the Church's mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.’

Ecological change may presage environmental disaster which must qualify as an ‘oppressive situation’ writ large. The world is in the process of being transformed but not in the positive sense that the bishops envisaged. Rather things do seem to be getting worse because of human actions: deserts are growing; hurricanes and tropical storms are increasing in intensity; Antarctic glaciers are calving at an growing rate leading to a rise in sea level; the ozone layer continues to be depleted; average global temperatures rise. Climate change will continue to have environmental, social and economic outworkings for generations to come. The damage being done to the non-human environment is an injustice which we must resist.

That these are matters of Christian mission were underscored by this year’s National Justice and Peace Network conference ‘The Greening of Justice and Peace’. Also the British and Irish Association of Mission Studies is planning a study day on the missiological implications of environmental justice in 2006. (And this November there are similar conferences in Australia and the USA.) This surge of discussion emphasises that this is an essential agenda for today. Christians have a vision of a world redeemed to be ever closer to the intentions of its creator. We have an obligation to work for the common good, which includes the good of the living net of life. The evangelising mission of the church is a comprehensive and rich whole in which Christ’s faithful people have the privilege and duty of being part of God’s loving plans. Those plans include the fulfilment of all things in a cosmic song of praise to the Lord. At present that is drowned out by discords and false rhythms; ugly notes mar its beauty. We have a priestly duty to restore harmony.


Pope John Paul II General Audience Address, January 17, 2001

In biblical language, "to name" creatures (see Genesis 2:19-20) is the sign of this mission of knowledge and transformation of created reality. It is not the mission of an absolute and uncensurable master, but of a minister of the Kingdom of God, called to continue the work of the Creator, a work of life and peace. His responsibility, defined in the Book of Wisdom, is to govern "the world in holiness and justice" (Wisdom 9:3).

However, if one looks at the regions of our planet, one realizes immediately that humanity has disappointed the divine expectation. Above all in our time, man has unhesitatingly devastated wooded plains and valleys, polluted the waters, deformed the earth’s habitat, made the air unbreathable, upset the hydrogeological and atmospheric systems, blighted green spaces, implemented uncontrolled forms of industrialization, humiliating -- to use an image of Dante Alighieri ("Paradiso," XXII, 151) -- the earth, that flower-bed that is our dwelling.

It is necessary, therefore, to stimulate and sustain the "ecological conversion," which over these last decades has made humanity more sensitive when facing the catastrophe toward which it was moving. Man is no longer "minister" of the Creator. However, as an autonomous despot, he is understanding that he must finally stop before the abyss. "Another welcome sign is the growing attention being paid to the ’quality of life’ and to ’ecology’, especially in more developed societies, where people’s expectations are no longer concentrated so much on problems of survival as on the search for an overall improvement of living conditions" ("Evangelium Vitae," 27). Therefore, not only is a "physical" ecology at stake, attentive to safeguarding the habitat of different living beings, but also a "human" ecology that will render the life of creatures more dignified, protecting the radical good of life in all its manifestations and preparing an environment for future generations that is closer to the plan of the Creator.