Justice for Planet Earth – A non- political Issue for the American Catholic Bishops

Voices all over the earth are crying out for justice and freedom! Too many dictators are popping up like weeds invading a garden; only the garden happens to be the planet. As of today, there are 50 dictatorships in the world (19 in Sub-Saharan Africa, 12 in the Middle East and North Africa, 8 in Asia-Pacific, 7 in Eurasia, 3 in Americas and 1 in Europe). America is trending toward autocracy so we just might be joining the 50 club! This has grave implications for our future on many levels.

Speaking of gardens, Mother earth is also crying out for justice and freedom! Extreme weather events are impacting cities, farms, and all sorts of habitats. Extreme heat and cold in areas that are not prone to such weather can  increase waterborne diseases, poor air quality, and diseases transmitted by insects and rodents. 

Climate change impacts many of the essential aspects of our lives on the planet. “Things that we depend upon and value — water, energy, transportation, wildlife, agriculture, ecosystems, and human health — are experiencing the effects of a changing climate…Because the ocean absorbs about 30% of the carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels, the ocean is becoming more acidic, affecting marine life. Rising sea levels due to thermal expansion and melting land ice sheets and glaciers put coastal areas at greater risk of erosion and storm surge.”

If you go to most populated shore areas, like the ones in southern New Jersey, you know that the size of dunes are getting wider and higher and the land between the ocean and the bays is shrinking. Flooding there has become common place after slightly abnormal amounts of rain.

Real estate is booming there and all around the major cities and the stress of traffic and tourism is causing more fossil fuel pollution and the need for more landfills to dispose of all the trash that will take centuries to decompose. Landfills are also required by the EPA to monitor non-methane organic compounds that are in the gases that escape into the atmosphere. These compounds can cause smog and other health problems for people and animals that live nearby. The Covid virus proved to be a great threat to those people with respiratory and heart issues.

In his encyclical letter, Laudato Si, on care for our common home , Pope Francis writes: “Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.”

He goes on in paragraph 8: “The continued acceleration of changes affecting humanity and the planet is coupled today with a more intensified pace of life and work which might be called “rapidification”. Although change is part of the working of complex systems, the speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution. Moreover, the goals of this rapid and constant change are not necessarily geared to the common good or to integral and sustainable human development. Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it causes harm to the world and to the quality of life of much of humanity.”

Despite, his words and the reminders and pleas for responding to the environmental crisis we face, the American bishops as well as the hierarchy around the world hardly ever uses their political clout to influence voters, or governments to budget resources for the care and wellbeing of the environment.

The American bishops statement on the environment is excellent but it certainly is not at the top of their lobbying efforts. What is, is the Pro-Life movement. They, along with the evangelical leaders, put most of their resources into various efforts to endorse Pro-Life candidates of the Republican party, most of whom deny climate change and could care less about planet earth. Isn’t the LIFE of the planet onto which the unborn will come a “sine qua non”?

Instead the bishops are more beholden to the fossil fuel industry and other entrepreneurial conglomerates whose donations to the Church enhance the bishop’s efforts to oppose abortion as well as secularism which they claim is responsible for the decline in their membership. The bishops need to realize that while the profits of those industries would be diminished they could be increased by a shift into green-focused transition programs like General Motors has done. They should also realize that many of the younger members of the Catholic Church are leaving because they will not tolerate the bishops lack of concern for the environment. The reason for the exodus should be obvious: it is their future life on the planet that will be affected by the bishops lack of lobbying for the green transition.

 Pope Francis ends his encyclical with these words:

“At the conclusion of this lengthy reflection which has been both joyful and troubling, I propose that we offer two prayers. The first we can share with all who believe in a God who is the all-powerful Creator, while in the other we Christians ask for inspiration to take up the commitment to creation set before us by the Gospel of Jesus.” One of those prayers is below.

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe

and in the smallest of your creatures.

You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.

Pour out upon us the power of your love,

that we may protect life and beauty.

Fill us with peace, that we may live

as brothers and sisters, harming no one.

O God of the poor,

help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,

so precious in your eyes.

Bring healing to our lives,

that we may protect the world and not prey on it,

that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.

Touch the hearts

of those who look only for gain

at the expense of the poor and the earth.

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,

to be filled with awe and contemplation,

to recognize that we are profoundly united

with every creature

as we journey towards your infinite light.

We thank you for being with us each day.

Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle

for justice, love and peace.

A Christian prayer in union with creation

Father, we praise you with all your creatures.

They came forth from your all-powerful hand;

they are yours, filled with your presence and your tender love.

Praise be to you!

Son of God, Jesus,

through you all things were made.

You were formed in the womb of Mary our Mother,

you became part of this earth,

and you gazed upon this world with human eyes.

Today you are alive in every creature

in your risen glory.

Praise be to you!

Holy Spirit, by your light

you guide this world towards the Father’s love

and accompany creation as it groans in travail.

You also dwell in our hearts

and you inspire us to do what is good.

About Dr. Ernie Sherretta, D. Min.

Retired Director of Religious Education for the Catholic Church since 2014, granted a B.A. in Philosophy from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Religious Studies from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Immaculata University, and a Doctor of Ministry from the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Spiritual Well-Being Counselor
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