One of the major focuses of Pope Francis since his election has been on the environmental crisis facing our planet, and the need for us to accept responsibility for taking care of the world that has been given to us by God. In his first Encyclical, Laudato Si, he challenged all people to live in such a way that we not only protect the environment, but to recognise that we have duties to one another and to the coming generations who will have to live with the consequences of our present behaviour.
In a further step to emphasise the importance of this call, Pope Francis has decreed that, from now on, the 1st September will be celebrated by the Church each year as a World Day of Prayer for the care of Creation. Even although by the time you read this, the 1st September will already have passed, I think it is important that we listen to his words and reflect on how we can all live in such a way that we respect one another and respect the planet that has been given to us in order that we may cherish it and take care of it. Below you will find some excerpts from the letter of Pope Francis:
“I wish to inform you that I have decided to institute in the Catholic Church the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” which, beginning this year, is to be celebrated on 1 September, as has been the custom in the Orthodox Church for some time.
As Christians we wish to contribute to resolving the ecological crisis which humanity is presently experiencing. In doing so, we must first rediscover in our own rich spiritual patrimony the deepest motivations for our concern for the care of creation. We need always to keep in mind that, for believers in Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became man for our sake, “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us” (Laudato Si’, 216). The ecological crisis thus summons us to a profound spiritual conversion: Christians are called to “an ecological conversion whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them” (217). For “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience”.
The annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation will 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 he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live. The celebration of this Day, on the same date as the Orthodox Church, will be a valuable opportunity to bear witness to our growing communion with our Orthodox brothers and sisters. We live at a time when all Christians are faced with the same decisive challenges, to which we must respond together, in order to be more credible and effective. It is my hope that this Day will in some way also involve other Churches and ecclesial Communities, and be celebrated in union with similar initiatives of the World Council of Churches.
It is my prayer that that this annual event will become a significant occasion for prayer, reflection, conversion and the adoption of appropriate lifestyles.
In expressing my hope that, as a result of wide cooperation, the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation will be inaugurated and develop in the best way possible, I invoke upon this initiative the intercession of Mary, Mother of God, and of Saint Francis of Assisi, whose Canticle of the Creatures inspires so many men and women of goodwill to live in praise of the Creator and with respect for creation.”
Let us reflect on these words of Pope Francis, and ask ourselves what more we can do to cherish one another and the planet that we share.
Fr Gerard, CSsR