TAKING effective care of God’s creation goes hand in hand with the protection of human dignity and morality.

This was the message of Pope Francis in his 184-page encyclical titled “Laudato Si,” which was released last June 18.

The Pope said protecting the environment went beyond solving problems like climate change, pollution, and global warming, which are deemed major ecological problems.

According to Pope Francis, the word “creation” has a broader meaning than nature, since it also deals with God’s plan, in which “every creature has its own value and significance.”

“This rediscovery of nature can never be at the cost of the freedom and responsibility of human beings who, as part of the world, have the duty to cultivate their abilities in order to protect it and develop its potential,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis also argued that care for the environment was impossible without working to defend human life and dignity as this brings about deep communion with nature, which requires “tenderness, compassion, and concern” for humanity.

“It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted,” Pope Francis said.

The Pope emphasized that respect for nature also meant respecting human ecology. This includes acknowledging one’s body as a gift of God that should not be manipulated, cultivating respect for the family, and “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity.”

"In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek 'to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it,'" the Pope said.

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Pope Francis slammed attacks against human life such as abortion, embryonic experimentation and population control.

“How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings [if] we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” the Pope said. “[I]nstead of resolving the problems of the poor, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. [D]eveloping countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of ‘reproductive health.’”

‘Not magic’

Lou Arsenio, coordinator of the Archdiocese of Manila’s Ministry on Ecology, said the Pope’s new encyclical carried extra significance for the Philippines, which is dubbed as the largest predominantly Catholic country in Asia.

“It is a call to action for the adults to educate the the young, and young Catholics to educate their fellow young people, toward ecological responsibility and the development of the youth’s creation spirituality,” Arsenio said in an interview with the Varsitarian.

Arsenio agreed with the Pope’s view that efforts to solve environmental crises were not effective because of the general lack of interest. The encyclical is not “magic” that can resolve environmental issues immediately, he said.

“As [young people], do you think of how this world would look like in 2030? The answer to this question depends on [the youth]. Thus, the encyclical cannot make magic for you and me. It is us who should study,” Arsenio said.

Arsenio urged the faithful to reexamine their profession of faith, noting that lack of interest toward environmental problems also meant lack of respect for God and His creation.

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“‘I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.’ What does this mean to you? [If] we regard each creature with love and respect, human dignity is also respected,” Arsenio said.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) threw its support on Pope Francis’ appeal for the protection of creation.

In a pastoral letter dated June 17, the day before the release of the Pope’s second encyclical, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, CBCP president, said the faithful should turn down apathy toward environmental and ecological concerns.

“The roots of our indifference to environmental and ecological concerns and the sinful dispositions in all of us that make us contributors to the depredation of a world entrusted to our stewardship, these are what scientists cannot teach us,” Villegas said.

Villegas said that the encyclical would remain “nothing but ink” until the faithful themselves heeded the Pope’s call.

Laudato Si’, which means “praise be to you,” was taken from St. Francis of Assisi’s medieval Italian prayer “Canticle of the Sun,” which praises God through elements of creation.

The new encyclical is the first to focus on environmental issues, but not the first time a pope raised the issue of environmental destruction.

Pope Paul VI in 1971 described the destruction of the environment as a “tragic consequence” of uncontrolled human activity. Pope St. John Paul II’s 1979 encyclical "Redemptor Hominis (The Redeemer of Man)" and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s address to the Diplomatic Corps in 2007 also slammed humanity’s abuse of nature.

It was also not the first time that the Pope pointed to humanity’s responsibility to take care of the planet.

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In his undelivered speech during his brief meeting with the youth in UST last Jan. 18, the Pope tackled the importance of safeguarding the environment, noting man’s mission to make the Earth “a beautiful garden” for the human family.

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