Today I would like to dwell on the issue of the environment, as I have already had the chance to do on several occasions. It’s timely also on account of today’s World Environment Day, sponsored by the United Nations, which is launching a strong reminder of the need to eliminate waste and the destruction of food.
When we talk about the environment, about creation, my thought goes to the first pages of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, where it states that God placed man and woman on Earth to cultivate and guard it (cf. 2:15). And questions come to my mind: what does it mean to nurture and cherish the Earth? Are we truly cultivating and guarding creation? Or are we exploiting and neglecting it? The verb “to cultivate” brings to mind the care that the farmer has for his land so that it gives fruit and can be shared: how much attention, passion and dedication! Nurturing and cherishing creation is a command God gives not only at the beginning of history, but to each of us; It is part of his plan; it means causing the world to grow responsibly, transforming it so that it may be a garden, a habitable place for everyone. And Benedict XVI recalled several times that this task given to us by God the creator requires grasping the rhythm and logic of creation. We are often driven by pride of dominating, owning, manipulating, exploiting; we do not “guard” it, we do not respect it, we do not consider it as a free gift to be cared for. We are losing the attitude of amazement, of contemplation, of listening to creation; and so we fail to read in it what Benedict XVI calls “the rhythm of the story of the love of God with man”. Why is this? Because we think and live in a horizontal way, we have turned away from God, we do not read his signs.
But the “cultivating and guarding” doesn’t include only the relationship between us and the environment, between man and the created, it also concerns human relationships. The Popes have spoken of human ecology, closely linked to environmental ecology. We are experiencing a moment of crisis; we see it in the environment, but mostly we see it in man. The human being is at stake: here is the urgency of human ecology! And the danger is serious because the cause of the problem is not superficial, but profound: it’s not just a matter of economics, but of ethics and anthropology. The Church has stressed this several times; and many say: yes, that is right, it’s true … but the system continues as before, because what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a lack of financial ethics. So men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: this is “scrap culture”, the culture of the disposable. If you break a computer it is a tragedy, but the poverty, needs and dramas of so many people end up being seen as normal… If on a winter night, in nearby via Ottaviano, for example, a person dies, that is not news. If in many parts of the world there are children who do not have enough to eat, that’s not news, it seems normal. It cannot be so! Yet these things become normal for us: that some homeless people die of cold in the street doesn’t make news. Conversely, a ten-point drop in the stock market in some cities, is a tragedy. A person who dies is not a news story, but a ten point drop in the stock market is a tragedy! So people are discarded, as if they were trash.
This “scrap culture” is becoming a common mentality, infecting everyone. Human life, the person are no longer perceived as the primary value to respect and protect, especially if they are poor or disabled, if they are no longer needed – like the unborn child – or are no longer of use – like the elderly person. This scrap culture has also made us insensitive to waste, including food waste, which is even more reprehensible when in every part of the world, unfortunately, many people and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food. Consumerism has led us to become accustomed to the superfluous and the daily waste of food, which we are sometimes no longer able to value correctly, as its value goes far beyond mere economic parameters. Note well, though, that the food we throw away is as if we had stolen it from the table of the poor or the hungry! I invite everyone to reflect on the problem of the loss and waste of food to identify ways and methods that, addressing this issue seriously, may be a vehicle for sharing and solidarity with the neediest.
A few days ago, on the feast of Corpus Christi, we read the story of the miracle of the loaves: Jesus feeds the crowd with five loaves and two fishes. And the end of the passage is important: « And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. » (Lk 9:17). Jesus asks his disciples that nothing be lost: no waste! And there is this fact of the twelve baskets: why twelve? What does it mean? Twelve is the number of the tribes of Israel, symbolically it represents all the people. And this tells us that when food is shared equally, with solidarity, nobody is devoid of the necessary, each community can meet the needs of the poorest. Human ecology and environmental ecology go hand in hand.
I would like then for all of us to take seriously the commitment to respect and cherish creation, being attentive to every person, to counter the culture of waste and disposal, to promote a culture of solidarity and of encounter.[Translation by Peter Waymel]
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Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Our Audience today coincides with World Environment Day, and so it is fitting to reflect on our responsibility to cultivate and care for the earth in accordance with God’s command (cf. Gen 2:15). We are called not only to respect the natural environment, but also to show respect for, and solidarity with, all the members of our human family. These two dimensions are closely related; today we are suffering from a crisis which is not only about the just management of economic resources, but also about concern for human resources, for the needs of our brothers and sisters living in extreme poverty, and especially for the many children in our world lacking adequate education, health care and nutrition. Consumerism and a “culture of waste” have led some of us to tolerate the waste of precious resources, including food, while others are literally wasting away from hunger. I ask all of you to reflect on this grave ethical problem in a spirit of solidarity grounded in our common responsibility for the earth and for all our brothers and sisters in the human family.
Holy Father (in Italian):
I offer an affectionate greeting to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Singapore and the United States. God bless you all!
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I extend a warm greeting to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet the faithful of the Diocese of Capua, Macerata and Matera, with Mons. Spinillo, Mons. Giuliodori and Mons. Ligorio, come to the see of Peter for the pilgrimage on the occasion of the Year of Faith; I greet the many parish groups, associations, workers’ representation groups of the companies operating in the Veneto region with the Patriarch of Venice, Mons. Moraglia, and the schoolchildren, in particular the young people confirmed in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lamezia Terme and the university students of Perugia, accompanied by their Bishops, Mons. Cantafora and Mons. Bassetti. For all I hope that the visit to the tombs of the Apostles will serve to strengthen your faith and Christian witness!
Finally, an affectionate thought to the young people, the sick and newlyweds. The month of June is dedicated by popular piety to the devotion to the Heart of Jesus. May it teach you, dear young people, the beauty of loving and of feeling loved; may the heart of Christ, dear sick people, be your support in trial and in suffering
; and may it support you, dear newlyweds, in the new journey of married life.