Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
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Introduction to Catholic Ecology and Faith
Catholics conserving nature and protecting life.™
In 1990, Pope Saint John Paul II issued his World Day of Peace
Message, Peace with God - Peace with all of Creation, in which the
Holy Father announced, "There is a growing awareness that world
peace is threatened not only by the arms race, regional conflicts,
and continued injustice among peoples and nations, but also by a
lack of due respect for nature... Moreover, a new ecological
awareness is beginning to emerge which, rather than being
downplayed, ought to be encouraged to develop into concrete
programs and initiatives."
Some people may think that the Catholic Church has only recently
jumped into the field of environmental conservation. Nothing could
be farther from the truth! According to a leading champion of the
environment, Sister Marjorie Keenan, RSHM: "To commit oneself to
the promotion of a sound and healthy environment for all is to follow
God’s plan for creation, a plan entrusted to us from the beginning”
Since its inception, the Church has instructed us on the proper
dominion and stewardship of Creation. This wisdom is made known
to us through sacred Scripture, the living Tradition of the Church,
the message of Creation, and the voice of conscience enlightened by
God’s law. Perhaps we have not always listened.
The Catholic approach to environmental justice is based on the two commandments of Jesus Christ: to love God
above all things and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Love of God requires respect for God's gifts and for God's
will for Creation. Love of neighbor requires justice, which prohibits the selfish destruction of the environment
without regard for those in need today or for the needs of future generations.
The Catholic attitude toward nature is care for our common home. “Care” is central, and goes further than
“stewardship”. Good stewards are responsible for the use and protection of the natural environment. But one can
be a good steward without feeling connected. If one cares, one is connected. To care is to allow oneself to be
affected by another, so much so that one’s path and priorities change.
From the first pages of the Bible, we are instructed to "cultivate and care for" God's Creation (Genesis 2:15).
Created in the image and likeness of God, we are granted dominion over the rest of Creation (Genesis 1:26-28).
Dominion means that we have sovereignty over, and responsibility for, the well-being of God's Creation. We
resemble God primarily because of this dominion; hence, our dominion must also resemble God's dominion. We
must cultivate and care for the Earth as God does, with love and wisdom. We are called to exercise dominion in
ways that allow God's original Creative Act to be further unfolded.
Dominion does not mean that God does not care how we use the material world. From the beginning, God insists
that humans are not “little gods” with limitless authority. Not only does Genesis describe the creation of
humankind as “very good,” it describes the creation of non-human creation as “good.” In other words, nature has
its own value, and that value is given by God. God enables people to be intelligent and free causes in order to
complete the work of Creation and to perfect its harmony.
In the year 97 AD, Pope Saint Clement I described the peace and harmony of the Universe as follows: "The
heavens, revolving under His government, are subject to Him in peace. Day and night run the course appointed by
Him. The sun and moon, with the companies of the stars, roll on in harmony according to His command. The
fruitful Earth, according to His will, brings forth food in abundance, at the proper seasons, for man and animal and
all the living beings upon it. The seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, peacefully give place to one
another. The very smallest of living beings meet together in peace and concord. All these the great Creator and
Lord of all has appointed to exist in peace and harmony." Such statements of a harmonious Universe endowed by
God with its own integrity and internal dynamic balance began with our earliest popes and saints and have
continued throughout the living Tradition of the Church.
More than 50 years ago, in 1961, Pope Saint John XXIII reminded us of the need to care for Creation when he
explained: "Genesis relates how God gave two commandments to our first parents: to transmit human life -
'Increase and multiply' - and to bring nature into their service - 'Fill the Earth, and subdue it.' These two
commandments are complementary. Nothing is said in the second of these commandments about destroying
nature. On the contrary, it must be brought into the service of human life."
In 1971, Pope Blessed Paul VI warned: "Man is suddenly becoming
aware that by an ill-considered exploitation of nature he risks
destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation.
Not only is the material environment becoming a permanent menace -
pollution and refuse, new illness and absolute destructive capacity -
but the human framework is no longer under man's control, thus
creating an environment for tomorrow which may well be intolerable.
This is a wide-ranging social problem which concerns the entire
human family." He added, "Everything is inter-related. [We must be
attentive] to the large-scale consequences that every intervention of
man brings about in the balance of nature which has been put at
man's disposition in all its harmonious richness, according to the
loving designs of the Creator".
In 2010, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, popularly known as the “Green
Pope”, further advanced our understanding of ecology and the
environment by releasing a statement entitled, If You Want to
Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation. The title of “Green Pope” could also
rightly be granted to Pope Saint John Paul II or Pope Francis, both of
whom have commented extensively on ecology.
Today, Pope Francis continues our rich and sacred Tradition of ecology
and faith. The Holy Father has made numerous statements about our
responsibilities toward each other and all of creation. On June 18,
2015, Pope Francis released his new encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care
For Our Common Home.
Since the beginning, Catholics and all people of good will have been called to be co-workers with God in the
stewardship of Creation, with wisdom and love. Today this call is as urgent as ever.
"The first step towards a correct relationship with the world around us is the
recognition by humans of their status as created beings. Man is not God; he is His
image. For this reason he must seek to be more sensitive to the presence of God in
his surroundings. In all creatures, and especially in human beings, there is an
epiphany, or manifestation, of God.
The human being will be capable of respecting other creatures only if he keeps the full
meaning of life in his own heart. Otherwise he will come to despise himself and his
surroundings, and to disrespect the environment, the creation, in which he lives. For
this reason, the first ecology to be defended is 'human ecology.' This is to say that,
without a clear defense of human life from conception until natural death; without a
defense of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman; without an
authentic defense of those excluded and marginalized by society ... we will never be
able to speak of authentic protection of the environment."
+ Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, March 9, 2011
Seven Themes of Ecological Responsibility
1. A sacramental view of the Universe - In a sacramental view, nature's beauty and
diversity reveal something about God. God is present and active in Creation, while also
transcendent. "Faced with the glory of the Trinity in Creation, we must contemplate, sing, and
rediscover awe," said Pope Saint John Paul II.
"Reverence for the Creator present and active in nature may serve as ground for
environmental responsibility," wrote the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "For the
very plants and animals, mountains and oceans, which in their loveliness and sublimity lift
our minds to God, by their fragility and perishing likewise cry out, 'We have not made
ourselves.' God brings them into being and sustains them in existence. It is to the Creator
of the universe, then, that we are accountable for what we do or fail to do to preserve
and care for the Earth and all its creatures... Dwelling in the presence of God, we begin
to experience ourselves as part of Creation, as stewards within it, not separate from it."
2. A consistent respect for human life, which extends to respect for all Creation -
The Church approaches the care and protection of the environment from the point of view of the
human person. Men and women are created in the image and likeness of God. Fostering and
protecting human life and dignity, from conception to natural death, lies at the heart of the
Church's social teachings. We now know that respect for human life and respect for nature are
inextricably linked. According to Pope Saint Pope John Paul II, "Respect for life and for the dignity
of the human person extends also to the rest of Creation, which is called to join man in praising
God." Tragically, the reverse is also true: A lack of respect for human life extends also to the rest
The womb is the most endangered human environment in the world today. Without life, there is no
environment. The right to life precedes every other environmental issue.
3. A world view affirming the ethical significance of global interdependence and
the common good - Recent ecological concerns have heightened our awareness of just how
interdependent our world is. According to Pope Saint John Paul II, "Today the ecological crisis has
assumed such proportions as to be the responsibility of everyone... Its various aspects
demonstrate the need for concerted efforts aimed at establishing duties and obligations that belong
to individuals, peoples, states, and the international community."
4. An ethics of solidarity promoting cooperation and a just structure of sharing
in the world community - We are all part of one human family - whatever our national, racial,
religious, economic, or ideological differences. Solidarity is a firm and preserving determination to
commit oneself to the common good, and a willingness to lose oneself for the sake of others,
including future generations. "The ecological crisis," Pope Saint John Paul II had written, "reveals
the urgent moral need for a new solidarity, especially in relations between the developing nations
and those that are highly industrialized." Solidarity must take into consideration not only the needs
of all peoples but also the protection of the environment in view of the good of all.
All persons are called to a solidarity of universal dimensions that embraces all of Creation,
entrusted to the care of all of us.
5. An understanding of the universal purpose of created things, which requires
equitable use of the Earth's resources - God has given the fruit of the earth to sustain the
entire human family, including future generations. "The world is given to all, not only to the rich,"
said Pope Blessed Paul VI. The goods of the earth should be shared in a just and charitable
In the words of Pope Saint John Paul II:
It is manifestly unjust that a privileged few should continue to accumulate
excess good, squandering available resources, while masses of people are living
in conditions of misery at the very lowest level of subsistence. Today, the
dramatic threat of ecological breakdown is teaching us the extent to which greed
and selfishness - both individual and collective - are contrary to the order of
Creation, an order that is characterized by mutual interdependence.
6. A special concern for the poor and vulnerable, which
gives passion to the quest for an equitable and sustainable
world - While the common good embraces all, those who are weak,
vulnerable, and most in need deserve preferential concern. The ecological
problem is intimately connected to justice for the poor. "The goods of the
Earth, which in the divine plan should be a common patrimony," said Pope
Saint John Paul II, "often risk becoming the monopoly of a few who often
spoil it and, sometimes, destroy it, thereby creating a loss for all
humanity." According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "The
option for the poor embedded in the Gospel and the Church's teachings
makes us aware that the poor suffer most directly from environmental
decline and have the least access to relief from their suffering."
Blessed Mother Teresa expressed the option for the poor well when she
said, "Suffering today is because people are hoarding, not giving, not sharing. Jesus made it very
clear. Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me. Give a glass of water, you give
it to me. Receive a little child, you receive me. Clear."
Our duty is not only to share our wealth, but also to promote the values, institutions, rights, and
responsibilities that properly generate wealth, including: respect for life, liberty, appropriately-
regulated free market economies, the just rule of law, and a safe and healthful environment.
7. A conception of authentic development, which offers a direction for progress
that respects human dignity and the limits of material growth - Much of the
destruction of Creation is caused by sin, including the sins of greed, gluttony, envy, anger, pride,
and sloth. These lead to rampant consumerism, haphazard development, social injustice, the
indiscriminant application of technology, and environmental destruction.
Pope Saint Pope John Paul II had said, "In his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to
grow, man consumes the resources of the Earth and his own life in an excessive and disordered
way... The mere accumulation of goods and services, even for the benefit of the majority, is not
enough for the realization of human happiness."
Instead of limiting ourselves to "sustainable” development, Catholics strive for more: We strive for
“authentic” development. Numerous social conditions impact our ability to realize our full human
dignity and potential, including: the right to life from conception to natural death, freedom, clean
air and water, shelter, health care, education, rewarding employment, the right to establish a
family, a healthful environment, and the right to seek and to know God.
+ The above Seven Themes of Ecological Responsibility are based, in part, on the 1991 statement of the United States Conference of
Catholic Bishops, Renewing the Earth.
"Development cannot be limited to mere economic growth. In order to be authentic, it
must be complete: integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every person and of the
+ Pope Blessed Paul VI, Populorum Pregressio
"The apex of development is the exercise of the right and duty to seek God, to know him
and to live in accordance with that knowledge..."
+ Pope Saint John Paul II, Centesimus Annus
Featuring a searchable collection of quotes on Catholic ecology, since 2000
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