Pope Francis has declared, “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years” (Laudato Si’ 53). There is no injustice quite so appalling and alarming as that visited on mother earth by human beings.
I believe that this earth, our mother, is a gift and the outcome of an intentional act by a loving God who is deeply involved and invested in the process of creating the earth and human beings. Our moral response to this gift implies a duty of care, usually rendered in biblical terms as a form of “stewardship.”
Creation was not a definitive act sequestered in an impenetrable and irretrievable historical past. Creation is an enterprise continually being fulfilled, in mutuality and reciprocity. The focus is not so much on how the earth came into being as it is on how it is to be continued and sustained, how it survives. The plan can go awry and human beings can and do mistreat the earth. But we are not bound inexorably to this practice of ecological violence. We can chart a different course, one of care, healing and protection of mother earth.
Protecting, caring for and healing the earth is primarily about protecting, caring for and healing humanity. How we treat mother earth is an accurate measure of how we treat ourselves. Any wound inflicted on our common home is a wound inflicted on ourselves. In the context of the present ecological crisis, commitment to healing the earth sets us on a path toward the survival and salvation of humanity, toward healing ourselves.
At the root of this belief is the realization that the human person and the earth have a vital connection and that both influence and depend on each other. Thus our duty of protection and care invites us to replace the ecology of violence with the ecology of gratitude. The latter manifests as respect, reverence, empathy, solidarity, mutuality, reciprocity, interdependence, generosity, and compassion toward mother earth and toward one another.
This article first appeared in the Spring & Summer 2019 issue of CJI’s Mission News. Fr Orobator is President of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar.