By Francesca Merlo
Pope Francis has penned a letter to Cardinal Angelo de Donatis, Grand Chancellor of Rome's Pontifical Lateran University, on the establishment of a cycle of studies in Ecology and the Environment: Care of our Common Home and Protection of Creation, Pope Francis noted that in being called to educate in responsibility towards the gifts of creation, "the Church also fulfils her commitment in forming the true meaning of every action aimed at preserving, protecting and guaranteeing life on and of the earth".
In this regard, wrote the Pope, believers and non-believers alike, "have a duty not only to ensure abstract sustainability or to proclaim the good of future generations but to provide the means to safeguard the various ecosystems and their components, knowing that we cannot dispose of them without measure". A lack of ecological awareness has serious repercussions, continued the Pope, "not only on the environment but also on human relations and social life, feeding a culture of waste that primarily means exclusion, poverty, inequality, forced displacement of populations and failure to meet basic needs".
The Catholic Church
Pope Francis went on to note that in the Catholic Church, concern for the protection of creation "is rooted in the heritage of reflections, ideas, and tools for action contained in her social doctrine".
However, he continued, "we cannot forget that it is thanks to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople that concern for the ecological issue has matured among Christians, for preserving the gifts of creation, of the natural heritage, including with numerous initiatives to raise awareness and exhort believers and other religious communities to respect the environment". Patriarch Bartholomew I recalled, in a speech at the Symposium on the Environment in Santa Barbara, USA, on 8 November 1997, that faced with the extinction of species, the destruction of biological diversity, climate change caused by the destruction of forests, the contamination of water, air and life, the Church has not hesitated to say: 'these are sins'.
This common sentiment has helped to deepen the dialogue between our Churches, said Pope Francis, also directing it to grasp the wisdom that is realised in educational action. "University education must be able to respond to the many challenges posed at the present time to the whole of humanity and to the communities of believers", noted the Pope.
Studying ecology and the environment
It is precisely for this reason that he "thought of including Studies in Ecology and the Environment in the system of ecclesiastical studies", the Pope said. This course, he explained, is "one of advanced training in which the Sees of the Apostles Peter and Andrew will be able to work in synergy to continue, even in this area, their mission to proclaim the Good News to all peoples".
Bringing his letter to a close, Pope Francis expressed his certainty "of the commitment of all those, teachers, students and non-teaching staff, who will work together to ensure the sound preparation of priests, consecrated persons and lay people, always working with humility, sobriety and a spirit of sacrifice, essential qualities for building, also through study and research, that social friendship which is the foundation of fraternity".
Faced with current and future scenarios, concluded the Pope, these studies "are for the benefit of ecclesial structures, forms of consecrated life, associations and movements, and all those who wish to acquire the ecological awareness, knowledge, and competence required for a commitment inspired by a just and sustainable model of human beings, life, society and relationship with nature".