“You Love All That
Exists… All Things Are Yours, God,
Lover of Life…”
Letter on the Christian Ecological Imperative
from the Social Affairs Commission,
Conference of Catholic Bishops
St. Francis of Assisi
Saint for Ecology)
beauty and grandeur of nature touches each one of us. From panoramic
vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source of wonder
and awe. It is also a continuing revelation of the divine. Humans live
within a vast community of life on earth. In the Jewish and Christian
religious traditions, God is first described as the Creator who, as
creation proceeded, “saw that it was good.”
God’s love for all that exists was wondrously evident then, remains so
now, and invites the active response of humankind.
enter into ever-deeper relationship with God - this “Lover of Life” -
entails striving to develop right relations with nature and with other
human beings. But life on earth today is plagued with
an unprecedented and accelerating ecological crisis. Deforestation,
species extinction, climate change, ecosystem collapse, contamination of
air and water, and soil erosion are just a few of the enormous ecological
problems which we face in Canada and elsewhere in our world. How many of
us remember a childhood spent playing under the sun, a beach we were once
able to swim at, a river we were once able to drink from – but no more!
The closing of the once overwhelmingly bountiful cod fishery in Quebec,
Newfoundland and Labrador is a particularly painful example of this
crisis. Indeed, every region has been affected in some negative manner.
Environmental health concerns are frequent, arising from the Sydney Tar
Ponds in Nova Scotia to urban smog alerts in Toronto or Montreal, from contaminated
mine sites in northern Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories to the
safety of food that every Canadian family will eat.
glory is revealed in the natural world, yet we humans are presently
destroying creation. In this light, the ecological crisis is also a
profoundly religious crisis. In destroying creation we are limiting our
ability to know and love God. “The ecological crisis is a moral issue” and
“the responsibility of everyone,” says Pope John Paul II. “Care for the environment is not an
option. In the Christian perspective, it forms an integral part of our
personal life and of life in society. Not to care for the environment is
to ignore the Creator’s plan for all of creation and results in an
alienation of the human person.”
A Religious Response
Praise be my Lord for our
brother the wind,
air and cloud, calms and all weather,
by which you uphold life in all
Francis of Assisi, The Canticle of the Sun
history, each people’s religious beliefs have conditioned their
relationship to their environment. Some Christians have developed the
ecological acumen of saints. Others seem to have misinterpreted the
Genesis account to “subdue” the earth and establish “dominion” over all
living things. Pope John Paul II has emphasized the need for “ecological
conversion,” and we
are encouraged that many Christian traditions are responding actively to
the ecological crisis. They have recognized that churches have
insufficiently come to grips with how aspects of Christian theology and
tradition are implicated in the Western capitalist development model which
has led to so much ecological ruin
(not to mention the ecological disasters left by communist regimes).
Christians are mining biblical and theological resources in order to gain
insight into “eco-justice” issues. Others are collaborating by forming new
ecumenical and interfaith alliances. The work to highlight a theology of
creation that directs us towards the proper relationship between God and the
entire earth community is most timely and appreciated, both within the
churches and increasingly among environmental activists.
5. All spiritual traditions speak of the marvels
of the earth: the overwhelming beauty, the vast array of creatures, the complex
and interconnected weave of ecosystems. They also teach respect for the earth
and call humans to live within its limits. Certainly the Christian tradition
has both biblical and theological resources that could deter humans from
further ecological ruin. Biblical teachings are rich with ecological guidance
and wisdom. The bible has abundant images that connect the earth to God, and
teach about God; the wind, water, soil, seeds, trees, birds, sheep. Many
passages speak of the need to respect the land, for example.
The metaphors of planting and tending, pruning and harvesting are used to speak
of God and of life. The magnificent story of Job is a reminder that God loves
and tends to all of creation.
The rainbow, set by God in the clouds, “recalls the Covenant between myself and
you and every living creature of every kind that is found on the earth.”
bible also teaches about an equitable distribution of resources, including
sharing land, animals and water. This insistence on justice is often
directed towards distributing the bounty of the earth and providing for
those who are marginalized.
The profound interconnection between God’s care for humans and care for
the environment is noted in Psalm 146, in which
The maker of heaven and earth,
the sea and all that is in them …
secures justice for the
oppressed, gives food to the hungry …
sets prisoners free …
gives sight to the blind …
raises up those who are bowed
protects the stranger [and]
sustains the orphan and the widow.
Ecological problems are enmeshed
within social structures that serve the interests of the few at the expense of
the many, especially those marginalized and in poverty.
theological and liturgical tradition affirms the biblical message.
Creation and the redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God are inextricably
linked. Through his Incarnation, Jesus Christ not only entered and
embraced our humanity; he also entered and embraced all of God’s creation.
Thus all creatures, great and small, are consecrated in the life, death
and resurrection of Christ. This is why the Church does not hesitate to
bless and make generous use of the earth’s materials in liturgical
celebrations and sacraments. This is also why, in Catholic social thought,
the common good should be conceived as the sustenance and flourishing of
life for all beings and for future generations.
The call for a “new solidarity” should take into consideration not only
the economic needs of all people but also environmental protection in
order to provide for all.
The principle of the social mortgage on private property should include an
“ecological mortgage” on the goods of creation (for this as well as future
generations). The preferential option for the poor can be extended to
include a preferential option for the earth, made poorer by human abuse.
Embracing Ecological Conversion - Living
Water or Private Commodity?
Praise be my Lord for
our sister water,
is very serviceable to us,
humble and precious and clean.
-St. Francis of Assisi, The
Canticle of the Sun
is the source of all life, and a primary symbol in religious traditions.
Water cleanses, purifies, refreshes and inspires. The bible speaks of
living waters, of becoming a fountain of living water, of longing for
running water, and of justice flowing as a mighty river. Yet how can
anyone speak about the “waters of life” if these waters can no longer
sustain life? As Thomas Berry writes, “if water is polluted it can neither
be drunk nor used for baptism. Both in its physical reality and its
psychic symbolism it is a source not of life but of death.”
water everything dies. Water is the basic element though which all life
forms emerged, exist and flourish. Water is the life-blood of the planet,
and maintains an intricate and delicately balanced circulation system that
has evolved for over four billion years. Water not only serves the common
good, but is part of the common good.
water is threatened almost everywhere on earth. Many water systems are
over-saturated with contaminants and carcinogens. The diversion and
damming of rivers has resulted in drought, and in deserts where lush
ecosystems once thrived. Ground water is diminishing and aquifers are
mined. Bulk exports of thousands of gallons of freshwater are planned as if
such ecological trauma would leave no negative footprint. These realities
pose grave risks to human health and food security, as well as to the
future of entire regions.
world’s fresh water resources are finite and are now becoming market
commodities, no longer public goods. Currently, inadequate access to safe
drinking water affects the well-being of over one billion people, and 2.4
billion persons lack access to adequate sanitation.
Some persons living in urban slums in poor countries are forced to pay
between four and one hundred times more for water than their middle and
upper class fellow citizens.
No wonder that for persons living in poverty, water has become, in the
broad sense of the concept, a right to life issue.
The tragedy of seven deaths and thousands of illnesses in Walkerton,
Ontario, as a result of a contaminated water system has brought this
concept into the Canadian consciousness, as well.
- One of
the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs – which Canada is committed to
achieving by 2015) is to reduce by half the proportion of people without
sustainable access to safe drinking water.
The United Nations has declared 2003 the International Year of Freshwater.
This is a propitious time for Christian communities to reflect on the
meaning of water in our lives, the need to preserve it and safeguard its
purity, and also to redefine how it is shared. Not only should every human
person enjoy the right to a safe environment but, specifically, every
person’s right to water must also be respected.
Canada’s bishops encourage all Canadians to sign the “Water Declaration”
and to participate in the action campaigns of the Canadian Catholic
Organization for Development and Peace as a concrete way to advance these
- Such a
basic human right as access to water cannot be left to the whims of market
forces to deliver. In our own country, Canadians should insist on
government action to ban bulk exports of water, exclude water services
from international trade agreements, ensure high quality standards of
drinking water for all and guarantee that water utilities remain public,
rather than private entities. Campaigns such as that of the Franciscan
Family of Quebec, which raise our attention to international trade
agreements that threaten our ability to protect and preserve supplies of
freshwater, are worthy of our support.
Members of Christian communities, especially in Catholic schools, are
encouraged to include education related to environmental issues,
especially water, in their upcoming programs.
Embracing Forms of Eco-Justice
serious solutions to the ecological crisis demand that human beings change
our thinking, relationships and behaviours in order to recognize the
interconnectedness of all creation. In previous messages, the Social
Affairs Commission suggested several pedagogical steps to assist
communities to develop social action.
Today however, we must imbue this pastoral methodology with ecological
sensitivity. For example, while beginning to listen to the experiences of
the marginalized in society, we must also be attentive to the cry of the
creation that surrounds and sustains them. Whereas we once began by
developing critical analysis of economic, political and social structures
that cause human suffering, we must now also bring the additional riches
of ecological justice to bear on such realities. Our Christian tradition
provides us with at least three inter-related forms of active response:
the Contemplative, the Ascetic and the Prophetic.
The Contemplative Response
one of us is called to deepen our capacity to appreciate the wonders of
nature as an act of faith and love. In the silence of contemplation,
nature speaks of the beauty of the Creator. “If you look at the world with
a pure heart, you too will see the face of God” (cf. Matthew 5:8).
Standing in awe of creation can assist us to perceive the natural world as
a bearer of divine grace. Much can be done in the preparation of liturgy
and meditation to include a renewed or deepened appreciation of nature
that will sensitize us to the problems and encourage us to work for the
solutions that our planet and future generations require.
The Ascetic Response
are blessed with an abundance of natural resources, but we also are among
the planet’s most excessively wasteful inhabitants. Thankfully, there is
in our tradition an ascetic response through which we can confidently
adjust our lifestyle choices and daily actions to respect ecological
limits, attune us to solidarity with vulnerable peoples, as well as
encourage the movement of grace in our lives. Rather than an attempt to
“flee the world,” a new asceticism would enable us all to enter more
deeply into the planetary rhythms of restraint from the demands of
consumerism. To “fast” from actions that pollute, to embrace whatever
inconveniences may arise from running a “greener” household, to decrease
our use of fossil fuels and to tithe time, treasure and talent to
environmental causes may all be aspects of this response. Buying locally
produced goods, organic produce and fairly traded merchandise are
increasingly realistic options for many Canadians. We can challenge the
hold of the marketplace over our lives by conscious efforts to avoid
over-consumption and by using our purchasing power to promote
The Prophetic Response
social justice issues have ecological implications: the case of water is a
perfect example of this. We can make the links between social and
ecological justice more evident in our preaching and community action. The
cry of the earth and the cry of the poor are one.
Ecological harmony cannot exist in a world of unjust social structures;
nor can the extreme social inequalities of our current world order result
in ecological sustainability.
But the growing movements for eco-justice can contribute substantially to
the necessary solutions for both crises. Christian communities, inspired
by St. Francis of Assisi – the friend of the poor who was loved by God’s
creatures - should provide positive recognition and support to those
environmentalists, farmers, educators and solidarity activists who have
begun to show us the way forward.
18. All of
creation is of God, and is as yet unfinished. We are called as co-creators to
join God’s work to repair some of creation’s wounds which have been inflicted
due to our ecological sins. We are also called to creative actions of
solidarity with those who have less access to the benefits of God’s bountiful
creation. The “Lover of Life,” who came so that we all might have life, and
have it abundantly,
continues to provide us with opportunities to renew the face of the earth. How
can we not take up that challenge?
Members of the Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs
Gagnon, Chairman, Bishop of Gaspé
† Blaise E.
Morand, Bishop of Prince Albert
† Jean-Louis Plouffe, Bishop of
† Donald J. Thériault,
Military Ordinary of Canada
Eaton, Ottawa, Consultant
Constance Vaudrin, Montreal,
vous procurer des exemplaires de cette publication en français au Bureau des
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Téléphone : (613) 241-9461, poste 133; télécopie : (613) 241-9048
1 Wisdom 11:25-26. Jerusalem Bible translation.
2 Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25.
3 Pope John Paul II, Peace with God the Creator, Peace with all of
Creation (World Day for Peace Message), January 1, 1990, No. 10.
5 Pope John Paul II, General Audience, 17 January 2001, No. 4; Sister
Marjorie Keenan, RSHM, From Stockholm to Johannesburg: An Historical
Overview of the Concern of the Holy See for the Environment, 1972-2002,
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Vatican City, 2002, p. 75.
6 David G. Hallman’s introduction to his book, Ecotheology:
Voices from South and North, Orbis Books, New York, 1994, p. 5, makes
7 For an overview of the growing relationship between religion and
ecology, see the Worldwatch Institute’s 2003 State
of the World Report, especially the chapter entitled “Engaging Religion
in the Quest for a Sustainable World,” W.W. Norton and Co., New York.
8 Deuteronomy 26:9-10, Psalm 24:1.
10 Genesis 9:15. Jerusalem Bible translation.
11 Amos 6:4-6; Luke 12:33.
12 CCCB Social Affairs Commission, The Common Good or Exclusion: A
Choice for Canadians, February 2, 2001, No. 12; and Celebrate Life: Care
for Creation, Catholic Bishops of Alberta, Western Catholic Reporter,
October 5, 1998, pp. 12-13.
13 Pope John Paul II, Peace with God the Creator, Peace with all of
Creation, op. cit., No. 4.
14 Thomas Berry, “Economics as a Religious Issue,” Riverdale
Papers X, 1985, p. 4.
15 The United Nations World Water Development Report, “Water for
People, Water for Life,” UNESCO, March 2003, p. 11.
16 C.K. Prahalad, Allen Hammond, “Serving the World’s Poor,
Profitably,” Harvard Business Review, September 2002, p. 5.
17 Archbishop Renato Martino, “Water: An Essential Element for Life,”
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace contribution to the Third World Water
Forum, Kyoto, Japan, March 16-23, 2003.
18 All 189 United Nations Member States pledged in 2000 to meet the
Millennium Development Goals by 2015. See: www.un.org/millenniumgoals/index.
19 Pope John Paul II, Peace with God the Creator, Peace with all of
Creation, op. cit. No. 9; Archbishop Renato Martino, “Water:
An Essential Element for Life,” op. cit.
20 For more information, see www.devp.org.
21 “Notre soeur l’eau n’est pas à vendre! Prise de
position de La Famille franciscaine du Québec.” December 23, 2002.
22 See “From Words to Actions,” Labour Day 1976, No. 9; and “Ethical
Challenges and Political Challenges,” December 13, 1983, No. 4.
23 Elizabeth A. Johnson, “God’s Beloved Creation,” America,
April 16, 2001, p. 10, was most helpful throughout this section.
24 Pope John Paul II, World Youth Day, Denver, August 14, 1993, Part
II, No. 5-6.
25 See National Bulletin on Liturgy, Vol. 27, No. 136
26 The Canadian bishops, for example, made three public interventions
in 2001 in favour of the ratification of the Kyoto Accord. As well, the bishops
actively participate in the Ecology Program Committee of KAIROS - Canadian
Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, where excellent work is being done to monitor
the ecological responsibility of the corporate sector. See www.kairoscanada.org; also:
Assemblée des évêques du Québec, Social Affairs Committee, Cry of the Earth;
Cry of the Poor, May 1, 2001.
27 Pope John Paul II, Peace with God the Creator, Peace with all of
Creation, op. cit., No. 11.