Pope: Christians Should Unite to Care for Creation, Poor

The Pope says Christians should unite to care for creation.

In his August 27 sermon from his summer residence south of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI warned that, “damage to the environment makes the life of the poor…particularly unbearable.” He called on Christians to unite to care for the Earth and expressed support for the Italian church’s “day for the safeguarding of Creation,” a September 1 event when parishes across Italy ask believers to meditate on ecological damage. Catholic congregations share the celebration with the Greek Orthodox Church, which in 1990 declared its Ecclesiastical New Year, September 1, a day dedicated to celebration and protection of the environment.

“There is a growing engagement of the Church [in environmental issues] on a variety of levels,” says Walter Grazer, Director of the Environmental Justice Program at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Catholic Church has unofficially grappled with questions of ecological damage since the 1970s, and the late Pope John Paul II engaged in extensive commentary on environmental issues. The 2004 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church discusses the connection between the environmental crisis and the living conditions of the world’s poor. And as recently as July, the Catholic pontiff sent a message to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew—a religious leader whose activities have earned him the title the “Green Patriarch”—applauding his work to unite Christians in caring for the Earth. “It is very important that Christians of every Confession work to show the link between development, human needs and the protection of Creation,” Pope Benedict wrote.

In his book Inspiring Progress, to be released on September 25, Worldwatch research director Gary Gardner discusses the role all world religions can play in protecting the environment. While Gardner appreciates the pope’s recent statement, saying it indicates “more and more Christian churches are embracing the idea of celebrating creation,” he emphasizes the importance of interfaith cooperation. He cites California-based Interfaith Power and Light as a successful example of different religious traditions joining together to address environmental challenges. Among other initiatives, the group (a part of The Regeneration Project) offers energy audits and assistance to houses of worship seeking to use renewable energy.

Synagogues, mosques, churches, and the like are wonderful demonstration sites for environmental activities, notes Gardner. For example, seeing a church fitted with solar panels, he says, makes a definite impression on people. Such initiatives can also have positive economic payoffs for congregations, notes Gardner.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.