Pope Francis and the Christian vocation to care for “our common home”


Most Christian Churches and communities throughout the world are currently in the midst of a five-week period called the “Season of Creation” – officially, at least.

Unfortunately, most of their members around the globe – including the overwhelming majority of those belonging to the Catholic Church – seem to be completely unaware of this.

That’s because it’s a very recent observance. For Catholics, at least.

“The day after tomorrow, September 1st, we will celebrate the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, inaugurating the Season of Creation, which will last until 4 October, the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi,” Pope Francis reminded those who attended his general audience last Wednesday at the Vatican, before setting off the next evening on his historic September 1-4 visit to Mongolia.

“The senseless war on our common home”

“Let us join our Christian brothers and sisters in the commitment to care for Creation as a sacred gift from the Creator,” he told those gathered in the Paul VI Hall. And then he said this:

“It is necessary to stand with the victims of environmental and climate injustice, striving to put an end to the senseless war on our common home, which is a terrible world war.

“I urge all of you to work and pray for it to abound with life once again.”

Francis also confirmed reports that he plans to publish “a second Laudato si'” at the end of the Season of Creation on his papal namesake’s feast day.

Laudato si’, of course, is the landmark 2015 encyclical on care for our common home” – i.e. care for Planet Earth and our natural environment.

We should probably expect that, in the new encyclical, the pope will expound on his concern over the “senseless war” we are waging on the planet.

Laudato si’ has been enthusiastically welcomed by environmentalists and many people who may not be Catholic or even Christians, but who are deeply concerned about the current state of the environment, especially because of worrying issues such as climate change and global warming.

Unfortunately, far too many Catholic bishops and priests are still giving the 2015 encyclical a much cooler reception.

So, kudos to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for highlighting the World Day of Prayer and the Season of Creation by prominently publishing a reflection on this year’s theme – “Let Justice and Peace Flow” – on its website.

Hopefully, this will help nudge those Catholics who are skeptical of climate change, or those who believe environmental concerns have nothing to do with Christian faith, to reconsider their ambivalence towards Laudato si’ and the urgency of the concerns it has put forth.

Francis, Bartholomew, and the World Council of Churches

Pope Francis, who will be 87 in December, has emerged as one of the leading voices in the global discussion on environmental issues.

That’s because he is a true believer – not in environmentalism, but in God the Creator. He explains this beautifully and convincingly in his 2015 encyclical.

Being responsible stewards of creation, and being co-creators with God, are part and parcel of being a Christian. Indeed, it is the duty of every human being who lives in this “common home” called Earth.

Francis is not the first Roman pope to speak about our Christian responsibility to care for creation.

John Paul II and Benedict XVI also expressed their concerns. In fact, so did the Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et spes. But Francis is the first pope to issue an encyclical (and soon a second one) on the matter.

However, he is not the first Christian leader to systematically zero-in on environmental issues. That would be the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the “primus inter pares” of the Orthodox world.

It was the late Patriarch Dimitrios I who first instituted the World Day of Prayer for Creation in 1989.

He chose September 1st as the date of its annual observance.

Then the World Council of Churches (of which the Catholic Church is not a formal member) decided in 2007 to extend the observance up until the October 4th feast of St. Francis of Assisi, calling it the “Time of Creation”.

“Called to promote stewardship of the network of life”

Shortly after issuing Laudato si’, Pope Francis joined the other Christian communities and made the World Day of Prayer for Creation an official observance in the Catholic Church.

He said it would “offer individual believers and communities a fitting opportunity to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which (God) has entrusted to our care, and to implore (God’s) help for the protection of creation as well as (God’s) pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live”.

The pope also pointed out that celebrating it on September 1st would also be “a valuable opportunity to bear witness to our growing communion with our Orthodox brothers and sisters”.

But it wasn’t until four years later that the pope took the first steps towards embracing the WCC-sponsored “Time of Creation”.

In his message for the World Day of Prayer in 2019 he noted that, as “beloved creatures of God”, we are called to live “in communion with the rest of creation”.

And he said that “for this reason, I strongly encourage the faithful” to observe the “Season of Creation”, which he called “a timely ecumenical initiative”.

He said it was yet another “opportunity to draw closer to our brothers and sisters of the various Christian confessions”, while stressing that, since we are in an “ecological crisis affecting everyone, we should also feel close to all other men and women of good will, called to promote stewardship of the network of life of which we are part”.

A message from Mongolia

The papal trip to Mongolia may seem to have overshadowed the World Day of Prayer and the Season of Creation.

But in his very first address in the vast Central Asian country, which has been facing its own ecological problems, the pope praised the Mongolian people for their spiritual (he actually said philosophical) and practical attentiveness to nature and the environment with these words:

Your native wisdom, which has matured over generations of ranchers and planters respectful of the delicate balances of the ecosystem, speaks eloquently to those who in our own day reject the pursuit of myopic particular interests and wish instead to pass on to future generations lands that remain welcoming and fruitful.

You help us to appreciate and carefully cultivate what we Christians consider to be God’s creation, the fruit of his benevolent design, and to combat the effects of human devastation by a culture of care and foresight reflected in responsible ecological policies…

Furthermore, the holistic vision of the Mongolian shamanic tradition, combined with the respect for all living beings inherited from Buddhist philosophy, can contribute significantly to the urgent and no longer deferrable efforts to protect and preserve planet Earth.

So the papal visit to Mongolia has not and will not overshadow the Season of Creation.

The pope’s enduring legacy

Once Francis has returned to the Vatican from his long weekend visit, he will have plenty of opportunities to refocus attention on this time “for letting our prayer be inspired anew by closeness to nature”, “to reflect on our lifestyles, and how our daily decisions about food, consumption, transportation, use of water, energy and many other material goods” and “for undertaking prophetic actions”, as he described the opportunities the Season offered in his 2019 message.

That, by the way, was issued only four years ago.

That’s like a nano-second in the life of the Catholic Church.

But seconds turn into minutes, and minutes into hours, eventually becoming decades and centuries.

If the pope’s efforts to help us Catholics fully embrace our Christian (and human) “vocation to be stewards of creation” currently seem to be unrealizable, and even if many believers reject or oppose his efforts, do not lose heart.

When history is written many years from now, I’ll wager that one of the enduring legacies of Francis’s disruptive and dynamic pontificate will be the concrete initiatives he is now implementing to put the Catholic Church at the forefront in addressing climate change and environmental destruction and making it a leader in caring for all God’s creatures and all God’s creation.

  • Robert Mickens is La Croix International’s Editor-in-chief.
  • First published in La Croix. Republished with permission.


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