Pope Francis calls Christians to take action for mother earth. “If the simple fact of being human moves people to care for the environment of which they are a part, Christians in their turn “realize that their responsibility within creation, and their duty towards nature and the Creator, are an essential part of their faith”. (LS 64)
1) Spirit of Arnold
When we think about the SVD way of fulfilling our responsibility and duty for the environment, it is quite important to remember that our Founder himself was a natural scientist, who loved nature so much and asked his students to study natural sciences to be a missionary.
Fr. Anthony Hilger, SVD, the personal secretary of St. Arnold Janssen, wrote, “For the whole of creation, humanity, animal and plant life, this man of God had an attentive eye, rather like St. Francis of Assisi. In all things, he encountered the God of his heart in his wisdom, might and beauty. Inimitable was the warmth of his speech whenever he saw traces of God in the common things of creation and exclaimed in awe at their presence. One felt that his whole heart was there; nothing was too insignificant for everything led him to God. He was a friend of nature and friend of the machine, a friend of flowers and fields, of meadows and woods and in recreation time he loved to lie down in a meadow or on the forest soil…” (ref. Analecta SVD – 63/III. pp.73)
It is a blessing for us to integrate Arnold’s spirit into our current life and mission. As we hold JPIC as a characteristic dimension of the SVD that is interrelated with Bible, Communication and Mission, let us work on integral ecology through a variety of approaches with diverse dialogue partners.
2) Our work
The 17th General Chapter chose Integrity of Creation as one of the priorities of the Society, and it tells us how we have been tackling this issue seriously. The following are some of the SVD activities we have been involved with.
- Ecological conversion:
Raising awareness among SVDs and our dialogue partners. There are celebrations on World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation and other days dedicated to the environment. Bible courses are offered that include the Integrity of Creation.
- Protecting people and the earth from destruction of our environment:
Activities include the preservation of nature, planting trees, maintaining sanitation and water resources, reviewing the use of power sources. Being in solidarity with local people who are directly affected, and fighting against destructive mining, land grabbing and dam construction, are also carried out.
- Relief for disaster victims:
There are people called “climate refugees”, who needed to leave their land due to weather-related disasters. From 2008 to 2014, at least 22.5 million people have been displaced each year due to weather related hazards. It is expected that the number of those people will increase in the coming years (Cf. The Context of Climate Change UNFCCC- Paris COP-21, UNHCR). SVDs have been helping the victims of natural disasters.
- Tackling root causes:
Pope Francis mentions root causes of the ecological crisis in chapter three of Laudato Si. Those are “(misdirected) Technology”, the “Technocratic paradigm”, and “Modern anthropocentrism”. We have been tackling these issues in various ways, such as protecting local farmers and their traditional agriculture, accompanying the indigenous people and learning their wisdom, as in the use of natural medicine. These are some essential ways to challenge the root causes of the ecological crisis.
- Systemic change:
In chapter five of the encyclical, Pope Francis mentions dialogue with the international community. For sure it is important to have a concrete framework to work for the sustainable environment at the international level. It is said that the Pope published this encyclical for the preparation of the three major international conferences in 2015, namely: 1) Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in July; 2) UN General Assembly in New York in September; and 3) COP 21 to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris. We SVDs have been working on such issues at the local, national and international levels, particularly through VIVAT International.
Towards the future
“What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (LS 160)
Here is the key question from Pope Francis. Let us think about the future of our community, the Arnoldus Family and our dialogue partners. Let’s say, in 2050, what environment can we leave for them? Let us reflect on our lifestyle and formation as the Pope suggests. (LS 214) Let us not forget that the Integrity of Creation is a characteristic dimension of the SVD that has to be seen in our daily life and mission. As our founder did, let us encounter God in nature and share its joy with people.
Heinz Kulüke and the Leadership Team