At midday today, in the Vatican Gardens, the Feast of Saint Francis was celebrated in the presence of the Holy Father. As pointed out at the event by Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Department for the Service of Integral Human Development, the event also marked the beginning of the Synod on the Amazon.
During the prayer ceremony, concluding the “Season of Creation” initiative promoted recently by Pope Francis, a tree from Assisi was planted as a symbol of integral ecology, to consecrate the Synod on Amazonia to Saint Francis, shortly before the fortieth anniversary of the papal proclamation of the Poverello of Assisi at the patron of ecologists. At the end of the celebration, the Holy Father recited the Lord’s Prayer.
The ceremony was attended by representatives of indigenous populations from Amazonia, Franciscan brothers and various members of the Church.
Following are Cardinal Turkson’s remarks during the event:
Gathered for this tree-planting ceremony in the Vatican Gardens to celebrate “the seasons of creation” and to mark the beginning of a Synod on the Amazon, two expressive events of our need to “care for our common home”, I recall another tree-planting ceremony here in the Vatican Garden, but by the two religious and moral giants of advocacy for peace and care for creation, Pope Francis and the Patriarch Bartholomew.
Shortly after His All Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople had described the abusive treatment of creation as sin, Pope Francis wrote his Encyclical Letter, Laudato si, on the Care of our common home to address the current ecological crisis, both natural and human. Not only is our environment deteriorating globally, but little effort is also made to safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology (LS. 5). “The destruction of the human environment”, he observed, “is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement” (LS. 5). That is why, at the inaugural Mass of his pontificate, which was a celebration of the feast of St. Joseph, the custodian of the Holy Family, Pope Francis invited the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s square and the whole world to listen to the cry of two fragilities in our midst: creation and the poor. Rendered fragile by the misdeeds of man, the Pope exhorted the human family to listen to the cry of these fragilities not only with the mind but most importantly with the heart (compassion). Man cannot be indifferent to the lot of these fragilities; for, “every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in ‘lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies” (LS.5).
The Message of the Holy Father for the World Day of Prayer for Creation (September 1, 2019) captures and gives potent expression to manifestations of the sore state of the earth, our common home, and the need for action. The key-word, “season” which articulates the message of the Holy Father, ultimately also suggests a time of change: humanity’s turning a new leaf to save the planet. In this regard, according to the Pope’s Message, there is not only a season or time for prophetic gestures; there must also be a “season” or ”time” for wisdom and its acquisition. For, it is “he who has a vision, who also has a mission.” Thus our concern to respond to the ecological crisis (mission), should be undergirded by knowledge and wisdom (vision), as Pope Francis has advised: “If we are truly concerned to develop an ecology capable of remedying the damage we have done, no branch of the sciences and no form of wisdom can be left out, and that includes religion and the language particular to it” (LS. 63). So, here is a small bit of the wisdom of biblical religion and the language proper to it.
In the first account of creation (Gen.1-2:4a), creation and “all that is” is presented as the work of God’s Word; (cf. Jn 1:3) and it is by design (cf. Is 45:11-12). The first instance of God speaking his Word was actually at the creation of the world, and it was the creation of the world as home for humanity. The series of “God said, let there be” did “tear through the silence of nothingness”1 to produce the created world. So, God’s Word transformed “chaos” at the dawn of creation into a “cosmos”, an ordered world system, capable of supporting human life, and suitable to be home for man (Is.45:18). And the lesson here is simple: Chaos with the Word of God becomes Cosmos. Conversely, Cosmos without God’s Word turns into chaos!
1 Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, §1.