WHEN Cardinal Mario Bergoglio assumed the Petrine ministry and took the namesake of St. Francis, a Filipino archbishop already surmised that the new pontiff will pursue an agenda inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, namely: the poor, the environment and peace. He was right.
During his inaugural address in March 2013, Pope Francis already outlined this when he said, “I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: Let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”
It was no surprise then that his much-awaited encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, would take prominence in the agenda of his pontificate. He spoke on behalf of the poor while bewailing poor governance and bad business for placing “speculation and the pursuit of financial gain” ahead of the common good. He pointed the “tragic rise in migrants,” to escape poverty caused by environmental degradation. He chastised global inequality and called for a “true ecological approach” that will “hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”.
The encyclical points out how the poor have been seriously hurt by demographic segregation in modern society, which is partly due to “the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centers of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems.” In the end “this lack of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at times by the disintegration of our cities, can led to a numbing of conscience and to tendentious analyses which neglect parts of reality,” (No. 49).
Both the environment and people, especially those in the peripheries, fatally suffer injury from the worsening structural evils proliferated by economic and political ends. Says the encyclical, “Human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation,” (No. 48).
The root causes are, of course, not in the stars but in the human heart. In 1988, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued its first landmark pastoral letter on ecology, “What is happening to our beautiful land”. It said, “At the root of the problem we see and exploitative mentality, which is at variance with the Gospel of Jesus. This expresses itself in acts of violence against fellow Filipinos. But it is not confined to the human sphere. It also infects and poisons our relationship with our land and seas.”
At the end of the day, the call to good stewardship of creation may actually be a call to conversion of the heart.