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By Fr Seán McDonagh SSC
Care for creation has become a central theme of Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate. In July 2008, he told the dignitaries gathered to welcome him at Government House in Sydney that ‘the need to protect the environment’ was of paramount importance. The following day, addressing a crowd of more than 250,000 young people who had gathered for World Youth Day 2008, he spoke about the feeling of awe for God’s creation which he experienced during his long plane journey from Rome to Sydney. ‘The views afforded of our planet from the air were truly wondrous. The sparkle of the Mediterranean, the grandeur of the north African desert, the lushness of Asia’s forests, the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, the horizon upon which the sun rose and set, and the majestic splendor of Australia’s natural beauty . . . It is as though one catches glimpses of the Genesis creation story – light and darkness, the sun and the moon, the waters, the earth, and living creatures; all of which are “good” in God’s eyes, Immersed in such beauty, who could not echo the words of the Psalmist in praise of the Creator, “how majestic is your name in all the earth”’.
It was against this background that he delivered his message about environmental destruction. ‘Perhaps reluctantly we come to acknowledge that there are also scars which mark the surface of the earth: erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world’s mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption’. He went on to challenge the young pilgrims: ‘the concerns for non-violence, sustainable development, justice and peace, and care for our environment are of vital importance for humanity’.
One year earlier, in response to a question from a priest, he told an audience in northern Italy to link religious teaching to the concerns young people have about the environment. Against the background of beautiful Alpine peaks and colorful meadows, he told his audience that ‘nature itself tells us that some things are naturally right and some are naturally wrong’.
This article was published in Sunday Examiner, the newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong.