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Church calls for conversion, returns to green roots

For the past 20 years, the Catholic Church has taken a more pressing interest in the environment. In making this major turnaround, it has returned to its roots, says theologian Norman Lévesque.

The institutional Church and Christians were historically close to nature and very conscious of the environment as a gift from God. Scripture often makes reference to creation and the responsibility people have to care for it. Major saints, such as Saint Francis of Assisi, offered powerful examples of how to live in harmony with all creatures.

This respectful attitude towards creation was present in the Church until the Enlightenment (the 17th century), which brought about a new way of thinking, based on empiricism. The Industrial Revolution followed with a resulting detachment from nature that lasted for close to 300 years, explains Lévesque.

However, the second half of the 20th century brought with it a new concern for creation, a new “revolution”, which the Church gradually joined and is currently playing a role.

“Local churches and the universal Church have become increasingly involved in the domain of the environment,” emphasizes Fr. André Beauchamp, a Montreal priest and environmentalist.

“We should rejoice, because the Catholic community was very slow in reacting to the ecological crisis, lagging practically a generation behind the Protestant community. The ecological crisis is not some external, accidental incident,” he continues.

As early as 1972, in his message at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, Pope Paul VI spoke of the squandering of non-renewable natural resources. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have continued in the same manner.

Closer to home, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Assembly of Quebec Catholic Bishops have often alerted the public about the necessity of preserving nature, so that it remains in harmony with God’s plan on Earth.

SOUNDING THE ALARM

In their pastoral letter on The Christian Ecological Imperative (2003), the Canadian bishops remind citizens that “we humans are currently in the process of destroying creation. An unprecedented, constantly accelerating ecological crisis. Seen from this perspective, the ecological crisis also appears to be a deeply religious one.”

According to Fr. Beauchamp, it is moreover “the direct consequence of massive human intervention in the environment and is linked to our lifestyle (unbridled consumption) and modes of production (science and technology). Confronting the crisis therefore presupposes a genuine conversion of society… Hence the importance of a prophetic word in this arena.”

The popes and bishops justifiably denounce the destabilization occurring within nature, up to and including the destruction of animal and plant species. In his message Peace with God the Creator, Peace with all of Creation (1990), Pope John Paul II points out that imbalances in nature do not work in humanity’s favour.

Benedict XVI, in his message If you want to cultivate Peace, protect Creation (2010), asks: “Can we remain impassive in the face of actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources?”

“Climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, and many others… All these are issues with a profound impact on the exercise of human rights, such as the right to life, food, health and development,” he writes.

A UNIVERSAL CALL

Confronting the environmental crisis, the bishops of Quebec published Christians and the Environment (1981), a fundamental text which they took up again 10 years later.

The response to this crisis cannot come from simple minor adjustments, the bishops affirm. Each citizen is called to behave in a responsible manner in the daily actions of their personal life, to reexamine consumption habits and lifestyle.

“At the local level, actions and involvement often center on concrete, immediate, and contentious problems: for example, water, the oilsands, food production, consumption, or taking advantage of special occasions set up by others: environmental days,” says Fr. Beauchamp.

“The documents produced inevitably insist on personal engagement and united action with others,” he continues. "At the universal level, beyond the issues of justice, it is the very relevance of the Christian faith that is at issue, and the interpretation we want to give to human beings as the image of God and the ones responsible for creation.”

In all of its messages regarding the environment, the Church often repeats the call for  Christians to undergo a conversion in order to reestablish their links with God through nature and to powerfully spur them to work on safeguarding his creation.

by Rolande Parrot

 

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