The crisis created by global warming and its impact on our environment is clearly the greatest risk to the survival of mankind – even the dreadful pandemic we have just come through pales into insignificance compared to the potential effects of global warming. Pope Francis has pointed out numerous times, especially in his wonderful Legato si’ encyclical, that care for our environment is not anything new to Catholic teaching, that right back to Genesis, man wasn’t simply given Dominion over everything in the world, he was given stewardship which implies caring responsibilities. Over the centuries, however, the full concept that stewardship was allowed to fade into the background because of what was seen as the Earth’s endless bounty. That is clearly no longer the case.
As the Pope has pointed out, we have two particular areas of responsibility here. The first and most immediate one is responsibility for the poor throughout our world who are already suffering from the relentless destruction of resources in their habitat to feed the insatiable consumerism of the developed world.
Our second area of responsibility is the world we are leaving to our children, our grandchildren and the generations after them.
As we begin our Synodal Pathway to help us understand better the role of our Church in the modern world and how we can best deliver the Good News to a secular world that seems to have little appetite for it, our responsibilities as stewards of our environment should be one of the anchor points for the journey we are undertaking. In doing that, we must avoid the temptation of falling into the trap of thinking it is just simply about things like retrofitting our churches or reducing the level of heating or practical things like that which feel good but really have only limited impact. Our journey is one of discernment and that discernment applies to our environmental responsibilities as much as other issues; just as in those other areas, we need to think long and hard about the problems, discuss them openly to bring out our true responsibilities and find ways we can fulfil them
Among the many issues and challenges facing our Church, one that is very close to the heart of many parents and grandparents is the near-total disengagement with our young people – our generation’s dreadful failure in handing on our Faith to the next generation.
As Pope Francis points out in his September intentions, young people are resolutely committed to environmental issues; is this an area where we can perhaps find common ground with our young people and show them that our Church still has a message for the world today? Just under three years ago, the whole world listened as Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old Swedish girl, stood up and told us just how dreadful a mess we are making of dealing with global warming and the legacy we are leaving to her and other young people. As part of our Synodal Pathway journey, is it possible that in this area of care for our environment, we, the older generation in the Church, can allow the younger generation to stand up and tell us what we should be doing?