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Reconciliation with Creation and how we can help

17 February 2012

Pedro Walpole with Bishop Julianus Kemo Sunarko, SJ and faculty in Purwokerto Diocese, Indonesia.

Pedro Walpole shares on Catholic social teachings as these relate to the context of human development and natural ecology, and their integration.  He shares nine basic points for consideration on Reconciliation with Creation with Catholic professionals and professors in the Diocese of Purwokerto, Indonesia, with Bishop Julianus Kemo Sunarko, SJ.

Wherever we look in the world today, there is anxiety if not conflict if we look beyond our daily security and comfort zones.  This relates increasingly to natural ecology, the way we use resources, and the environment we live in.  We have much of the scientific arguments today, but we do not have the moral conversion – the commitment to be morally responsible.

We have the technical responses to many of our concerns but lack the behavioural change. We need courageous decisions and alliances, though at times these are difficult to achieve.  We need principles to guide us.  We need conversion and the courage to act so we can then look at a new mode of development.

Financial businesses are not happy today; many of them are losing money.  There are also many poor people not only in Asia but also in western countries.  The financial crisis and speculative use of resources (whether it is dam construction or oil palm development) are contributing to social instability.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Caritas in Veritate: “Without charity and truth, we will not have true human development.  We may have economic development but not human development.”  His writings integrate Catholic social teachings over the centuries that bring us to practical actions.  At the same time, he challenges us to find the face of the Creator today in Creation; a return to the mystical experience of the book of nature and what has become today the domain of science.

Nine points are drawn on here highlighting the need for conversion and reconciliation with Creation.

1. Peace and links to natural ecology

Pope Benedict XVI sees ecology of nature, human ecology, and social ecology as always necessarily working together for us to have an integrated response.  In the care for the environment, he constantly uses two criteria: responsible freedom and the common good.  How we establish a livelihood or how our institutions in society bring us all together works on these principles.  He says the home of the human family is the earth.  When the human is viewed supreme, it requires we “exhibit toward nature the same responsible freedom that we claim for ourselves.”  This is the context of peace.

2. Conversion to a moral imperative

Our world needs “an ecological conversion” said Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See’s permanent observer at the United Nations in New York, USA, in October 2006.  We need to grasp the urgency and importance that all of us are responsible to protect the environment beyond all our studies on the environment and development agendas.  This is what we call an underlying moral imperative.  There is no avoidance and no shirking of responsibility, which means we have to internalize the problem, analyse with others at each level what is needed and change our actions.

3. Behavioural change and lifestyle

Our attitude must change; laws do not change our attitude.  There is a change of attitude because there is a change of heart, and not just a change of mind.  Change of mind changes the way we think but not necessarily our action.  It is behavioural change that comes with personal commitment.  This is a long struggle and Pope Benedict is not giving us technical solutions, but rather the moral challenge to change how we live and recognize deeply that the environment is suffering and we must change our consumption and demand greater systems of accountability.  Though it may seem irrelevant what is done in the kitchen given the size of the problem of city waste management, every effort to compost and recycle will in time make a difference.  We are encouraged to take on commitments at the scale we can work with and foster alternatives by which we can live by.

Discussing Catholic social teachings at the Diocese of Purwokerto, Indonesia.

4. Courageous decisions and alliances
Indigenous Peoples have the strongest affinity for the land and diversity of life.  Farmers too have strong relationships with the land and climate where they have given all their life.  Urban people enjoy visiting the parks and botanical gardens, but return to a consumption pattern and waste generation that have lost the connection with the land and water.  Sometimes it is difficult to find the gratitude and humility to acknowledge that the land and sea feed us.  We are asked to have a “decisive ‘YES!’ to protect creation and strong commitment to invert those trends leading to irreversibly degrading situations.”  We need to know those boundaries we must not go beyond.  There is the evidence of climate change and yet how we still wish to compromise the future for economic growth now.  So much of resource extraction is not measured, thus there is no management accountability.  Our compliance and consumption make evil benign.

These are my personal foundation and constant basis for prayer and reflection and without these, our actions do not necessarily reflect reconciliation with creation and weaken the alliance with others.

5. Principles guiding environmental management

Catholic social teaching upholds the principles of the “common heritage of mankind,” “state responsibility,” “common but differentiated responsibilities,” “inter-generational and intra-generational equity.”  All of these guide our sense of the “proper use of resources” and integrity of creation but are inadequate.  The principle of “responsibility to protect” has to be strengthened as essential to global human security and ultimately human rights.

6. Mode of development

Pope Benedict has no answers to the financial crisis, but he does speak about the development that is effectively blocking billions of poor people in the world to give way to economic development.  Where there is money in the building or mining of resources and not in the living of the people, there is great injustice.  In Asia, there is a rush to build dams where much money is made legally and illegally, but are not actually serving the needs.  There is money to be made in diamonds and gold, and yes gold is mixed with other minerals, but the mining of either of these resources is not essential today while the people and environment suffer.  Can we not stop and really do the social and environmental analysis necessary to be accountable?  If we want to help people find dignified jobs, this is not the only way.  We always want to build big dams while very few would think of building small dams to make sustainable communities.

If we become limited to technical development that does not inherently serve the common good, we only reap economic benefits thus neglecting the merits of achieving human development.

7. Speculative use of financial resources

The present financial crisis came about through gross speculation.  This must be avoided as it “yields to the temptation of seeking only short-term profit, without regard for the long-term sustainability of the enterprise, its benefit to the real economy and attention to the advancement, in suitable and appropriate ways, of further economic initiatives in countries in need of development.”  Benedict continues, “It is true that the export of investments and skills can benefit the populations of the receiving country.  Labour and technical knowledge are a universal good.  Yet it is not right to export these things merely for the sake of obtaining advantageous conditions, or worse, for purposes of exploitation, without making a real contribution to local society by helping to bring about a robust productive and social system, an essential factor for stable development.” (Benedict: Caritas in Veritate, 40.)

Bishop Julianus Kemo Sunarko, SJ.

8. Integral human development in charity and truth (Caritas in Veritate)

The biggest problem I find amongst the people I worked with in environmental concerns is either they burn out, or in keeping up with the issues, become skeptical of ever adequately shifting the problems in society.  Fidelity to the truth and to keep going back over events and establishing what is known and what is needed in order to be just, are necessary.  In this way, we do not idealize or expect too much of the situation, we retain a strategic engagement and living hope.  Our relationship with Christ is fundamental in walking the path of social responsibility and responsibility for creation.  Such fidelity is the “guarantee of freedom (cf. Jn 8:32) and of the possibility of integral human development.”  It is from this basis we can reject “free market fundamentalism and simplistic polarization of this versus interventionist big government solutions.”  A new inspiration of personal change and accountability needs to infuse our social and economic systems and inform our actions for justice, common good, and integrity of creation.

9. Face of the Creator in Creation

Finding this is a challenge for us: to rediscover the face of the Creator in the Creation and to understand the responsibilities we have in this relation, forming the ethical capacity in lifestyle.  We need to find both the occasion for conversion and the strategy for making such change.

So how can we respond and act?

As we reflect on the above, and as these are discussed with school faculty, it is helpful to know if there are groups expressing their concerns, if the venue can be sustained for reflection and to seek to analyse the truth of a situation, and if this can be adapted as concerns emerge to connect with other institutions to try to bring awareness that leads to action.

Below are some questions that can guide the reflection:

  1. Where am I in the web of relations with God, with neighbors, with Creation?
  2. How do I respond or contribute to the call of “healing a broken world?”
  3. What values and institutional relations help engage in ecological action and sustainability?
  4. What values do I find and can I communicate to engage the youth?
  5. What does networking mean and advocacy in my community, society and economy?

Find action that allows you to participate.  Think forthright to the truth.  Ask questions.  Recognize the truth and stand by that truth and seek justice.  Justice leads to forgiveness and better life for those who have suffered.  Wanting for a good life rather than a better life takes away from economic motives and secures the environment for the future.

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