Francis of Assisi, proclaimed by Pope John Paul II as the patron saint of ecology, is iconically remembered by most as a simple holy man surrounded by birds. His Canticle of the Sun, one of the first recorded works of Italian literature, sings the praises of God’s works of creation “through my lord Brother sun, who brings the day … our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us.”
A less sanitized historical Francis in reality presents us with an uncomfortable saint. His radical poverty, stripping naked before the powers and corruption of his day, challenged authority. Francis carried his message of the brotherhood of all peoples even across Crusader and Saracen battle lines in Egypt to speak of peace to the Sultan al-Kamil. He offered warriors an alternative road forward. His message with the most resonance today, called on humanity to protect the environment as stewards of God’s creation which we are part of, not apart from.
Vatican Radio reported on an address that Benedict XVI gave last Monday to students and teachers representing an ecologically focused foundation called Sister Nature inspired by the witness of Francis of Assisi. The Pope’s message reiterated the environmental patron saint’s message when he told the young people: “If in his work, man forgets he is God’s collaborator, then he can cause violence to creation, which always has a negative impact on humans, as we have seen, unfortunately … it has become apparent that there will be no good future for humanity on earth if we do not educate everyone to a more responsible way of life for creation.”
Meetings of the United Nations Climate Change Conference have begun in Durban, South Africa. They seek to try to renew the Kyoto Accords aimed at limiting the global emissions of the greenhouse gasses warming the planet today with dangerous consequences. They also serve as an important rallying point for global education and action.
On the eve of the talks representatives of many different religions met at a Durban stadium close to the UN conference site. They came together to pray for the world delegation’s recognition of their role as the stewards of creation and to act accordingly.
An IPS press article on Tuesday noted that they “were joined by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who called for the world to prepare itself for the battle against global warming. Tutu criticized those countries refusing to sign the Kyoto: “God wants us to live in a garden, not a desert.” Archbishop Tutu and other South African leaders pointed a collective finger at Canada as one of those wayward, nonco-operative countries in a full-page in the Globe and Mail the day before yesterday.
Our own church leaders from bishops to imams have spoken out as well. On October 25 a wide array of faith communities issued a statement entitled “Canadian Interfaith Call for leadership and Action on Climate Change (http://www.councilofchurches.ca/communications).”
In it they declare that they “are united in our conviction that the growing crisis of climate change needs to be met by solutions that draw upon the moral and spiritual resources of the world’s religious traditions. We recognize that at its root the unprecedented human contribution to climate change is symptomatic of a spiritual deficit: excessive self-interest, destructive competition and greed have give rise to unsustainable patterns of production and consumption.”
They urge our leaders “to put the long-term interest of humanity and the planet ahead of short-term economic and national concerns” by seeking climate justice through agreeing to binding emission targets and instituting a national renewable energy policy. Will they?
Daniel C. Maquire, Professor of Ethics at Marquette University and author of The Moral Core of Judaism and Christianity, wrote, “If the current trends continue … we will not. If religion does not speak to this, it is an obsolete distraction.”
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse.