By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Pope Benedict XVI continued to paint his distinctive shade of green in Australia yesterday, repeatedly voicing environmental concerns while linking them to a broader range of Christian doctrines and moral teaching.
In a session with leaders of other religions held in the Chapter Hall of Sydney’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, the pontiff said religions have a unique capacity to foster “sacrifice and self-discipline,” including “a moderate use of the world’s goods.”
That ethos, the pope said, leads men and women “to regard the environment as a marvel to be pondered and respected, rather than a commodity for mere consumption.”
“It is incumbent upon religious people,” the pope said, “to demonstrate that it is possible to find joy in living simply and modestly, generously sharing one’s surplus with those suffering from want.”
Benedict XVI also called upon the religions to challenge “sinister and indiscriminate forms of violence,” promoting peaceful conflict resolution and respect for human dignity. Benedict defined himself as an “ambassador of peace.”
The pope challenged religious leaders to make “goodness, compassion, freedom, solidarity, and respect for every individual an essential part of our vision for a more humane future.”
At the same time, the pope cautioned against defining inter-religious relations exclusively in terms of practical cooperation towards social aims. Dialogue should also focus, he said, upon efforts to understand “the profound meaning of human existence,” which Christians believe is revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.
Later in the afternoon, Benedict addressed a group of disadvantaged youth served by a rehabilitation community of the University of Notre Dame. Once again, the pope hit an environmental note. In the course of commenting on abuses of power, Benedict cited a tendency “to exploit the natural environment for selfish purposes.”
“This is to make power into a false god,” the pope said. “Instead of bringing life, it brings death.”
Once again, the pope’s words on the environment were part of a broader continuum of concerns, including alcohol and drug abuse, a “permissive approach to sexuality,” and what he described as a modern “cult” of material possessions.
Acknowledging that some of the youth gathered in Sacred Heart Church had gone down these paths, the pope applauded their “courage in choosing to turn back.”
“I see you as ambassadors of hope to others in similar situations,” Benedict said.
Since arriving in Australia earlier in the week, Benedict has missed few opportunities to strike environmental themes, picking up on Australia’s strong political and social commitment to ecological awareness. In virtually every case, however, these have not been stand-alone comments, but rather the pope has inserted his environmental message into broader treatments of Christian faith and social teaching.
In essence, the implied argument seems to be that the self-mastery required to address environmental challenges, especially to reconsider modern consumerist lifestyles, presupposes the spiritual and moral commitments supplied by Christianity.
Benedict’s other major address yesterday came before leaders of various Christian denominations, gathered in the crypt of St. Mary’s Cathedral.
The pope reiterated his commitment to the goal of unity among the divided branches of Christianity, including the celebration of a common Eucharist. At the same time, he insisted that fellowship cannot be achieved at the expense of truth.
“We must guard against any temptation to view doctrine as divisive and hence an impediment to the seemingly more pressing and immediate task of improving the world in which we live,” Benedict said. “Praxis is not only inseparable from, but actually flows out of didache, or teaching.”
Benedict called upon the leaders of the various Christian denominations to offer a “common witness to Christ” and to “Christ’s truth.”
Some observers heard in the pope’s comments an implicit reference to the current crisis in the Anglican Communion over homosexuality, the ordination of women as bishops, and other matters threatening to further divide Canterbury and Rome. Benedict, however, did not single out any particular denomination or set of issues in his remarks.