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April 17, 2008 Edition

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The 'green pope'
Benedict XVI sees care for environment as obeying
'voice of the earth'

As we welcome Pope Benedict XVI to the United States this week, we wonder if he will include respect for the environment in his messages to the American people. The topic would be appropriate as we prepare to mark Earth Day on April 22.

Editor's View
Mary C. Uhler

Pope Benedict has already been hailed by some as the "green pope" for his concern for the environment. But he isn't the first to speak on this issue. Other popes, including Pope John Paul II, and bishops in the Catholic Church have emphasized care for all of creation.

Putting words into action

But Pope Benedict has been putting his words into action. In the summer of 2007, the Vatican announced that it would install more than 1,000 photovoltaic panels on top of the Paul VI Audience Hall. This allows the building to use solar energy for light, heating, and cooling.

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Also last summer, the Vatican became the first state in Europe to go completely carbon-neutral. The Vatican signed an agreement with a Hungarian firm to reforest a large part of Hungary's Bukk National Park. This will help offset its annual CO2 emissions.

Listening to the earth

John L. Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, in a column on July 27, 2007, pointed to these "green" efforts. Allen also went on to say that Pope Benedict believes the environmental movement promises recovery of the Natural Law tradition.

Allen quotes the Holy Father as saying, "Everyone can see today that humanity could destroy the foundation of its own existence, its earth, and therefore we can't simply do whatever we want with this earth that has been entrusted to us, what seems to us in a given moment useful or promising, but we have to respect the inner laws of creation, of this earth; we have to learn these laws and obey them if we want to survive.

"This obedience to the voice of the earth is more important for our future happiness than the voices of the moment, the desires of the moment. . . . Existence itself, our earth, speaks to us, and we have to learn to listen," said Pope Benedict XVI.

Results of misusing natural resources

The Holy Father is asking everyone on our planet to pay attention to what's happening around them and to use self-discipline and restraint. If people misuse our natural resources or try to push nature beyond its limits, we will suffer - and are suffering - the consequences.

We can see the results of human excesses in air and water pollution, shortages of resources, and climate change resulting in all kinds of problems from droughts to flooding.

The same self-indulgence and greed that wreaks havoc with the environment also cause lack of respect for human life. It's not a big step from disregard for plants, animals, water, and air to disregard for human persons. That's why I've always wondered why more environmentalists aren't also involved in the respect life movement. We should care about respect for all of God's creation.

Pope connects the dots

Pope Benedict XVI is connecting the dots. Because more people are involved in the environmental movement, he sees hope for other areas. As Allen points out, "Benedict also appears to see something deeper stirring in Western environmentalism, a new sense of moral restraint grounded in objective natural reality.

"To put the pope's point simplistically, if the world is willing to limit its carbon output on the basis of the laws of nature, then maybe it will become more willing to accept limits arising from nature in other spheres of life as well," says Allen.

Therefore, it would seem concern about misuse of the environment and the natural world should lead to concern about scientific experiments and manipulation of genes, embryonic stem cell research, cloning, abortion, and other misuses of the Natural Law.

Let's pray that Americans will be open to hearing what Pope Benedict XVI has to say about respect for all of God's creation. And on Earth Day, let's pray that people will embrace the pope's message and put it into action.

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