Yesterday, at the Synod’s Hall in the Vatican, Pope Francis addressed the Meeting on “Modern slavery and climate change: the commitment of cities” organized by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, in which the mayors of the great cities of the planet took part to address two linked emergencies: the climate crisis and the new forms of slavery.
In the course of his meeting with mayors from all over the world, the Pope gave an off-the-cuff address in Spanish, which ZENIT translates below.
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Good afternoon, welcome.
My sincere heartfelt thanks for the work you’ve done. It’s true that it all revolved around the topic of care of the environment, of that culture of care of the environment. However, that culture of care of the environment is not only a “green” attitude — I say it in the good sense –, it’s not a “green” attitude; it’s much more. In other words, to look after the environment means an attitude of human ecology, that is, we can’t say: the person is here and Creation, the environment is there; ecology is total, it’s human. That is what I wished to express in the Encyclical “Laudato Si’”: that man can’t be separated from the rest; there is a relation of mutual influence, be it of the environment on the person, be it of the person in the way the environment is treated, and also the boomerang effect against man when the environment is mistreated. Therefore, in face of a question I was asked, I said: “no, no it’s not a ‘green’ encyclical, it’s a social encyclical,” because in the social surroundings of the social life of men, we can’t separate the care of the environment. More than that, care of the environment is a social attitude, which socializes us in one way or another — each one can give it the value he wants — yet it makes us receive. I like the Italian expression when speaking of the environment, of the “Creato,”of that which was given to us as a gift, namely, the environment.
Moreover, why did this invitation, which it seemed to me was a very fecund idea of Monsignor Sanchez Sorondo’s Academy, of inviting the Mayors, the Mayors of the large and not so large cities, of inviting them here to talk about this? Because one of the things that is most noted, when the environment — Creation — is not looked after, is the unbridled growth of cities. It’s a worldwide phenomenon, it’s as if the heads, the large cities become big but with increasingcordons of greater poverty and misery, where people suffer the effects of the negligence of the environment. Involved in this connection is the migratory phenomenon. Why do people come to the big cities, to the cordons of the great cities, to the shantytowns, the slums, the favelas? Why do they do this? They do it simply because the rural world no longer gives them opportunities. And a point in the encyclical, which must be criticized but with much respect, is the idolatry of technocracy. Technocracy despoils of work, it creates unemployment, the
phenomenons of the unemployed are very great; they need to migrate in search of new horizons. The great number of unemployed is alarming. I don’t have the statistics — but in some countries of Europe, especially among young people, juvenile unemployment, for those 25 years and under, is more than 40% and in some it reaches 50%. Between 40, 47 — I’m thinking of another country — 50 –I’m thinking of other serious statistics given directly by Heads of Government, by Heads of State. And this projected to the future has us see a phantom, namely, unemployed youth that today, [we can ask], what horizon and future do they have? What is left for these youths? Either addictions, or boredom, or, not knowing what to do with their life — a meaningless, very harsh life, — youthful suicides — the statistics of youthful suicides aren’t published in their totality –, or seeking in other horizons, even in guerrilla projects, an ideal of life.
Moreover, health is at stake. The quantity of “strange” sicknesses, as they are called, which come from many elements of the fertilization of fields — or who knows what, the causes are still not known well –, but stem from an excess of the technical. Among the greatest problems at stake are oxygen and water, namely, the desertification of large areas due to deforestation. Beside me, here, is the Cardinal Archbishop in charge of the Brazilian Amazonia. He can say what deforestation means today in Amazonia, which is the world’s lung — the Congo, Amazonia, great lungs of the world. I remember that, because of deforestation a few years ago in my homeland — eight or nine years ago — the Federal Government issued a judgment against a Province to halt deforestation, which was affecting the population. What happens when all these natural phenomenons have an impact on migration? Lack of work and then the traffic of persons. Black market work is increasingly common, work without a contract, work concluded under the table. How it’s grown! Black market work is very great, which means that a person doesn’t earn enough to live. This can cause criminal attitudes and everything that happens in a large city because of the migrations caused by technology. I refer especially to the agro or the traffic of persons in mining work; mining slavery is still very great and very strong, and, what the use of certain elements of mineral laundering means — arsenic, cyanide — which cause sicknesses in the population. There is great responsibility in this, that is, everything has a boomerang; everything comes back. It’s the boomerang effect against the person himself. It can be the traffic of persons for slave labor, prostitution, which are sources of work to be able to survive today.
Therefore, I’m happy that you have reflected on these phenomenons. I mentioned only a few, which affect the big cities.
Finally, I would say that the United Nations must be made to interest itself in this. I have much hope but, nevertheless, the United Nations must take strong interest in this phenomenon, especially in the traffic of persons caused by this environmental phenomenon, the exploitation of people. A couple of months ago I received a United Nations delegation of women in charge of the sexual exploitation of children in countries at war — that is, children as objects of exploitation. It’s another phenomenon. And wars are also an element of imbalance of the environment.
I would like to end with a reflection that’s not mine. It is of the theologian and philosopher Romano Guardini. He talks about the two forms of lack of culture: the lack of culture that God gave us so that we would transform it into culture and the mandate He gave us to take care and grow and control the earth; and the second lack of culture is when man doesn’t respect his relation with the earth, he does not look after it — it’s very clear in the biblical account which is literature of a mystical type. When man doesn’t take care of it he seizes that culture and begins to divert it from its course. That is, the lack of culture diverts it from its course, leaves his hands and forms a second way of lack of culture: atomic energy is good, it can help, but up to a point; we should think of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, namely, the creation of disaster and destruction, to give an old example. Today, in all the forms of lack of culture, as the ones you have addressed, that second form of lack of culture is the one that destroys man. A Rabbi of the Middle Ages, more or less of the time of Saint Thomas Aquinas — and perhaps some of you have heard me tell this — was explaining in a “midrash” the problem of the Tower of Babel to his faithful in the Synagogue, and he said that it took much time to build the Tower of Babel, and that it entailed much work, especially to make the bricks — it implied working with clay, finding straw, kneading it, cutting it, drying it, then putting it in the furnace, cooking it, so that a brick was a jewel; it had great value, and the bricks were pulled up to place them in the Tower. When a brick fell, it was a very serious problem, and the culprit or the one who neglected the work and let it fall, was punished. But if a worker fell, of those who were building, nothing happened. This is the tragedy of the second form of lack of culture: man as creator of lack of culture and not of culture. Man is the creator of lack of culture because he doesn’t look after the environment.
And why has the Pontifical Academy of Sciences called cities’ Mayors to this meeting? Because although this awareness comes from the center to the peripheries, the more serious and more profound work is done from the periphery to the center, that is, from you to the conscience of humanity. The Holy See and this or that country can deliver a good address at the United Nations but if the work doesn’t come from the peripheries to the center it has no effect — hence the responsibility of the cities’ Mayors. Therefore, I am very grateful to you for coming together as extremely serious peripheries of this problem. Each one of you has in his city things that I have mentioned and that you must govern, solve, etc. I thank you for your collaboration. Monsignor Sanchez Sorondo told me that many of you have intervened and that all this is very rich. I thank you and I ask the Lord to give us all the grace to become aware of this problem of destruction that we ourselves are engaged in by not taking care of human ecology, by not having an ecological consciousness as we were given at the beginning to transform the first lack of culture into culture, and to halt there, and not transform this culture into lack of culture.
Thank you very much.[Translation by ZENIT]