Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew push creation care over the weekend

Protection of the environment served as focal points for the leaders of the both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches over the weekend, with Pope Francis reinforcing a plea from Italian prelates and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew announcing an environmental summit set for next year.

Following his Angelus in St. Peter’s Square Sunday, Francis spoke of greater care for creation, in light of the Italian bishops’ annual Day for the Safeguarding of Creation initiative.

“I hope that everyone -- institutions, associations and citizens -- will strengthen their efforts, so as to safeguard the life and health of people by respecting the environment and nature,” Francis said.

Since 2006, the Italian bishops have marked Sept. 1 as a day for the protection of creation. For 2014, they set the theme of “educating for the protection of creation, for the health of our country and city.”

In its message this year (link in Italian), the bishops said the scene described in Hosea 4:2-3 -- in which the Israelites’ infidelity with God leads to the land drying up and animals, birds and fish dying -- reflects the losses seen in polluted parts of Italy and elsewhere in the world. When harmony with God is broken, the earth languishes, they said. 

In addition to the Italian bishops, the Eastern Orthodox church marked Monday -- the commencement of its ecclesiastical year -- as a day of prayer for preserving God’s creation.

In his patriarchal encyclical for the new year, Bartholomew also announced an environmental summit scheduled for June 2015 with the theme of “Theology, Ecology, and the Word: a conversation on environment, literature and the arts.”

The aim, he said, “is to awaken the global conscience to the particular and specific importance of the ethical and spiritual dimension of the ecological crisis -- with special reference to the arts and literature -- in order that it may be returned to its ‘original beauty,’ which is the natural, [w]hole and sacred purpose for which it was fashioned by the creative hands of the divine Word.”

In his letter Bartholomew said that science, theology and the arts attribute the destruction of the natural environment to the fall of man, “that is to say, our disobedience to the Lord’s command and non-conformation to God’s will.” More specifically, he pointed to “human greed and vain profit” as culprits of “the ongoing and daily” devastation.  

In the church lies the resolution to the ecological crisis, the patriarch of Constantinople said, in that it invites all to restore the divine image to its former original beauty and to restore “a balanced relationship between humanity and creation, which was made by God for our joy and enjoyment but also for us to offer to Him as its Creator.”

“The nurturing of humanity by the natural world cannot possibly occur through greedy abuse but by respectful use, namely by mutual respect among human beings and all created beings as well as with everything that has life and offers life,” he said.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]