Vatican Calls for "Ecological Conversion" at Johannesburg Summit

Challenge Is to Put People at Center of Development, Aide Says

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, SEPT. 3, 2002 ( The Vatican called for “ecological conversion” at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, saying this requires putting the human person at the center of development and protection of the environment.

Archbishop Renato R. Martino, head of the Vatican delegation to the U.N. summit in South Africa, made that proposal Monday when he addressed the assembly.

The archbishop, whose address was distributed today by the Vatican Press Office, backed the first principle of the declaration of the 1992 Rio de Janeiro conference held on this topic.

“Human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development,” he said. “They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.”

“Placing human well-being at the center of concern for the environment is actually the surest way of safeguarding creation,” added Archbishop Martino. He said the Vatican takes a position, not on technical points, but on the values that “inspire actions and decisions regarding sustainable development.”

“Development is first and foremost a question of people. It must be recognized that juridical, economic and technical measures are not sufficient to solve the problems that hamper sustainable development,” the archbishop emphasized.

“Many of these problems are issues of an ethical and moral nature, which call for a profound change in modern civilization’s typical patterns of consumption and production, particularly in the industrialized countries,” the head of the Vatican delegation added.

“In order to achieve this change, we must encourage and support the ‘ecological conversion,'” he continued. “At stake, then, is not only a ‘physical’ ecology that is concerned to safeguard the habitat of the various living beings, but also a ‘human ecology,’ which rests primarily on ensuring and safeguarding moral conditions in the actions of the human being in the human environment.”

“In order to ensure the fulfillment of human ecology, what is needed is education in ecological responsibility,” the archbishop continued. “This education cannot be rooted in mere sentiment or empty wishes. A true education in responsibility entails a genuine conversion in the way of thought and behavior, promoting a true culture of life, which should be the basis for the new culture of sustainable development.”

Given the above, Archbishop Martino said that the way to authentic development in the world is the “globalization of solidarity” urged by John Paul II.

“The great moral challenge facing nations and the international community is to combine development with solidarity — a genuine sharing of benefits — in order to overcome both dehumanizing underdevelopment and the ‘overdevelopment’ that considers people as mere economic units in a consumer system,” he stressed.
<br> This is the answer to address the “extreme poverty” that “is perhaps the most pervasive and paralyzing violation of human rights in our world,” the archbishop added.

“The poor must be heard on issues and be at the center of local, national and international programs for sustainable development. Persons living in poverty must be considered as participating subjects. Individuals and peoples cannot become tools but must be the protagonists of their future,” the archbishop emphasized.

The Vatican believes that the distribution of water and the development of rural areas are among the most urgent problems the summit must face, he said.

Water is an indispensable element for the life of those 2.5 billion people who have difficulties accessing potable water, he said. Rural areas, where more than half the world’s people live, often lack basic services and are a key challenge for authentic development, Archbishop Martino said.

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