File photo of a school of fish off Malaysia's coast File photo of a school of fish off Malaysia's coast 

Pope Francis: Oceans are God’s gift for all generations

Pope Francis sends a message to the 8th Our Ocean Conference held in Panama, and urges governments across the globe to protect the ocean for the benefit of future generations.

By Devin Watkins

Panama recently hosted the 8th Our Ocean Conference under the theme “Our Ocean, Our Connection” to highlight the importance of knowledge as “the basis of our actions and policies to ensure the protection of our ocean”.

The event took place separately but at the same time as national governments held UN-sponsored, breakthrough talks in New York in which they agreed to a new “High Seas Treaty” to codify conservation efforts of ocean areas beyond national jurisdictions.

Pope Francis sent a message to participants in the Our Ocean Conference held in Panama, on 2-3 March, which was released on Monday and signed by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.

Gift from the Creator for all humanity

In his message, the Pope highlighted the importance of “humility, gratitude, and awe” as we say “Our” ocean.

“Starting from contemplation and study, our understanding of the complex and amazing mechanisms and balances of the oceans allows us to appreciate the role they play for everyone, not just coastal communities.”

He noted that all people depend on the oceans and are rightly considered the “common heritage” of humanity.

The oceans, he added, were given to us “as a gift from the Creator”, and we must therefore work to use them fairly and sustainably in order to pass them on to future generations.

Tied together by a common ocean

Pope Francis urged the politicians and business leaders at the conference to embrace an “integral vision of ecology” in line with his encyclical Laudato si’.

He noted that the oceans face a host of threats, including pollution, acidification, and illegal fishing, as well as the nascent extractive industry on the seabed.

The Pope also tied in the many migrant tragedies that occur on the high seas and the harsh treatment of seafarers.

In response, he called on governments to recognize the “interconnectedness and interdependence between communities and countries” which the oceans embody.

“We are one family, we share the same inalienable human dignity, and we inhabit a common home that we are called to care for.”

Three directions toward hope

The Pope went on to offer three directions to improve humanity’s relationship with the oceans.

First, he said, we need to listen to the cry of the poor and of the Earth, and therefore “urgently review growth strategies based on waste and unsustainable models of consumption.”

Second, humanity needs to unite “to protect and restore marine, coastal, and river ecosystems”.

Finally, said Pope Francis, governments need to create effective “governance systems” to regulate and coordinate activity on the oceans.

“By working in these directions,” he concluded, “there will always be hope.”

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06 March 2023, 10:32