Integral ecology: Care for creation means caring for the poor

IMAGE: CNS photo/Cindy Wooden

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Catholic social teaching has developed
over the past century as new problems — human, social, economic and
environmental — come clearer into focus and call out for a faith-based

Pope Francis’ contribution, with his encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common
Home,” is to emphasize just how closely entwined those problems

“After Laudato Si’, for the Catholic Church, these are
connected. You cannot try to tackle poverty without caring for the earth and
equally you cannot care for the earth without caring for the people who live on
the earth,” said Father
Augusto Zampini Davies, an official at the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

One of the biggest challenges of Pope Francis’ approach is a
spiritual one, the Argentine priest said. It involves conversion.

The poor are impacted most by climate change, yet they have
done the least to contribute to it, he said. “We must convert and change
our lifestyles and help others cope with the climate change we’ve caused.”

People in wealthy countries may think they are
“ecologically friendly” because they recycle and “like trees and
gardening,” he said, “but the way we produce, trade, consume and
waste” is not offset by separating plastic from paper.

In addition, wealthy countries “have the resources to
mitigate the effects of climate change,” for example, in building
infrastructure to control flooding and providing emergency relief to victims of
natural disasters and drought. But in poor countries, thousands of people die
in floods and tens of thousands are forced to migrate because of drought and

“If you cannot grow your crops and feed your children,
who wouldn’t migrate?” he asked.

In richer countries, the conversion Pope Francis is calling
for includes learning to face fear with a Gospel-based attitude toward others
and toward future generations, the priest said.

The connections between environmental damage, the global
economy and migration are clear, he said. And so are the motives underlying reactions
like climate-change denial, isolationism and anti-migrant sentiments.

“What Pope Francis does is say, ‘OK, here are the
symptoms, let’s find the roots,'” Father Zampini Davies said. “The roots are the same:
selfishness or indifference or greed or this mentality of thinking that if I
have more I will be more important.”

In many ways, he said, fear appears to be spreading among
people in the wealthiest nations, and “politicians play on people’s fears.
If I feel I am not benefiting from the global economy and I live in a
democracy, I will vote for someone who says they will get us out of that.”

Christians can find in their faith a healthy way to handle
their fears, he said, “because we have a different approach to the quality
of life, to what it means to have a better life, because our understanding of
life is relational and our understanding of redemption and salvation is that it
is for all of creation.”

Transforming the former Pontifical Council for Justice and
Peace into the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Pope Francis
specified that the office is an expression of the church’s “concern for
issues of justice and peace, including those related to migration, health,
charitable works and the care of creation.”

In other words, for Pope Francis, all those issues together
are key components of “integral human development.”

Father Zampini Davies, a priest of the Diocese of San Isidro,
Argentina, is one of the newest officials at the dicastery. He moved to Rome
from London where he spent the last four years serving as a theological adviser
to CAFOD, the official aid agency of the bishops of England and Wales.

His focus is “integral ecology,” which includes
development, the environment and spirituality.

Early development efforts focused almost exclusively on
material growth, Father Zampini Davies said, but over time it became obvious
that increasing income and purchasing power was not enough. Progress also meant
access to education and health care and greater social and political inclusion.

Thanks also to the social teaching of Blessed Paul VI, St.
John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, he said, Catholic development experts began
insisting that respect for human dignity, strengthening families and religious
freedom also were markers of progress.

For many of the development models, he said, environmental degradation was
accepted as collateral damage in the drive to increase production and
consumption, thereby raising GDPs.

Now it is clear to scientists, economists, development
experts and theologians that care for the environment and reducing the factors
that contribute to climate change are essential for making development
sustainable and truly caring for the poor, Father Zampini Davies said.

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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