Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Amazon Synod: Toward an integral ecology

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

This month, bishops from the Amazon region are gathering in Rome with representatives from the worldwide church for a special synod called by Pope Francis. From Oct. 6 to 27, participants will focus on two areas as noted in the theme chosen for the synod: “Amazonia: new paths for the church and for integral ecology.”

First, attention will be given to identifying new paths of evangelization, especially for the native peoples, who have often been forgotten, marginalized and persecuted. But a second related and equally important area of discussion will focus on promoting an “integral ecology” for the Amazon region, given the threats to the environment with the destruction of the rainforest, often called the “lungs of the earth.”

As Pope Francis observes in his encyclical “Laudato Si’” (LS), these two areas of evangelization and ecology are linked by a common understanding that all of nature is a gift, and human beings are the stewards of creation, rather than masters who dominate for their own benefit. In a similar way, for the church to be true to her mission of evangelization, it must begin with a spirit of gratitude and humility, and approach the world as a servant, called to reveal a loving creator who has made us the custodians of the creation he has ordered and cared for deeply from the very beginning.

Our stewardship of creation and witness to God as the creator begin with a clear understanding of the relationship that exists “between nature and the society which lives in it,” or as Pope Francis puts it, the need for an “integral ecology.” As the pope explains:

“Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it. Recognizing the reasons why a given area is polluted requires a study of the workings of society, its economy, its behavior patterns, and the ways it grasps reality. Given the scale of change, it is no longer possible to find a specific, discrete answer for each part of the problem. It is essential to seek comprehensive solutions that consider the interactions within natural systems themselves and with social systems. We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis that is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (LS 139).

Approaching creation with a sense of gratitude will involve a conversion, a turning away from the path that treats creation as something to be possessed and plundered with ever new technology, subject to human power for personal profit. A new way opens up to us when we fully embrace the world as God’s loving gift, and come to appreciate “that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion … that each creature reflects something of God and has a message to convey to us,” and that the risen Christ “is intimately present to each being, surrounding it with his affection and penetrating it with his light” (LS 220-221).

As Cardinal Claudio Hummes noted at a press conference introducing the synod’s twofold theme of evangelization and ecology, these are at the core of the church’s pro-life commitment: “It is a matter of caring for and defending life, both for all human beings, especially the indigenous people who live there, and for biodiversity. Jesus said: ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’” (Jn 10:10).

On Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis, the pope presided at a ceremony in the Vatican Gardens that featured the planting of a tree from Assisi. Using this occasion to consecrate the Synod on Amazonia to the saint known as Il Poverello (the Little Poor One), the tree planting serves as a symbol of integral ecology, reminding us that everything is connected — people, places and times, for it was 40 years ago that St. Pope John Paul II named St. Francis of Assisi the patron of ecologists. Let us join Pope Francis and all participants of the synod in invoking the intercession of Il Poverello, asking for the gifts of humility and gratitude as they begin their deliberations and as we take up with fresh vigor and energy our stewardship of God’s glorious creation.



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