National Prayer Breakfast on Creation Care
Presentation by Fr. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM
May 20, 2013
My name is Fr. Jacek Orzechowski and I’m a Franciscan friar and a Catholic priest.
In 2001, Pope John Paul II, warned that the humanity was moving toward the catastrophe. He said: “Man is no longer ‘minister’ of the Creator, but rather an autonomous despot who is understanding that he must finally stop before the abyss.” That same year, the US Catholic Bishops issued a statement entitled: Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good. For the bishops, global climate change is, first and foremost, a religious and moral issue. In their statement, they offer several themes and values rooted in the Catholic social teachings.
The first theme is the universal common good. The earth’s atmosphere belongs to God. We must share it with all human and non-human creatures and with the future generations.
The second theme is Stewardship of God’s Creation. Rejecting consumerism, addressing the systemic injustice in our society, fulfilling one’s civic responsibilities – these are some of the essential elements of what it means to be a faithful steward of God’s creation. The third theme highlighted by the bishops is the concern for future generations. We ought to consider the impact of our action on those who have not yet been born. What we do – or fail to do – often have profound moral implications. The forth theme is authentic development. Human beings are far more than what they can produce and consume. The bishops call for a re-examination of the dominant model of progress in our society that fuels greed and leaves little space for values such as solidarity and altruism. In a similar vain, the bishops warn about the dangers of voracious consumerism. They insist that our society must recognize the limits and hazards of growth. Furthermore, to be able to effectively deal with the problem of climate change – the bishops assert - we must seek to reduce poverty and improve education and social conditions for women. The fifth and the last theme is: caring for the poor and issue of equity. The Unites States and other wealthier nations have a moral responsibility to help impoverished countries to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.
The Catholic bishops’ statement on climate change led to a creation of Catholic Coalition on Climate Change (Franciscan Action Network is one of the members of this coalition). This initiative has been a very important step in engaging the Catholic parishes, schools and individual people in learning about the religious and moral dimension of climate change and spurring them into action. Catholic Coalition on Climate Change is making a difference, and these are some of the examples:
§ - * Thousands of people of faith and 16 Catholic Universities signed the St. Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor. This includes a commitment to reduce one’s individual and collective carbon footprint.
§ * Last summer over 25,000 people have seen a documentary Sun Come Up about the plight of some of the world’s first “climate refugees,” and participated in the education efforts.
Furthermore, this fall, Catholic Coalition on Climate Change will be launching its new educational campaigns called: The Climate Crisis is a Crisis of the Sabbath and Melting Ice, Mending Creation. Next year, the Coalition will be focusing on creating a green loan funds and on the efforts to significantly reduce a collective carbon footprint of Catholic institutions.
The Catholic bishops’ statement on climate change has also helped to incentive organizations such as Franciscan Action Network to become a stronger advocate for alternative energy such as wind power and to vigorously oppose misguided and immoral projects such as Keystone XL pipeline that perpetuate our society’s deadly addiction to dirty fossil fuels. Franciscan Action Network has just launched Franciscan Earth Corps- a national effort to engage young adults in the care for God’s creation.
Pope Benedict XVI said that we should not to remain on the sidelines in the struggle or justice. That includes environmental justice. During his pontificate, the Vatican became the first nation in the world to become carbon neutral. Benedict XVI also warned that the earth was speaking to us and we must listen and decipher her message, if we wanted to survive.
Pope Benedict successor, has taken the name of Francis – after St. Francis of Assisi – the Patron Saint of ecologists. Pope Francis continues to call all people of good will to safeguard and care for creation and urges them not to succumb to “the worship of the golden calf; that is, the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly human goal.”
Given the gravity and urgency of global climate change, let me echo the words from St. Francis of Assisi who at the end of his life and ministry of compassion toward the poor said in all humility: “Brothers and sisters, let us begin anew, for up until now, we have done nothing.”
Father Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, is a Franciscan, chair of the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Directorate for the Franciscans of the Holy Name Province, Guardian at St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, active with Franciscan Action Network, and a long-time relationship with NRCCC.