Pope Francis designated September 1 – Friday this year – as a “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.”
In his message of September 1 last year, the Holy Father explained that he has done so to “offer individual believers and communities a fitting opportunity to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live (para. 1).” His purpose – and our purpose as Catholics and Christians in following his lead – is no more complicated than that.
The “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” is not about differing political positions, conflicting scientific theories and opinions or protests and debates. These realities have their own place in contemporary society and their own audiences who embrace the various issues and strategies they raise and propose. Pope Francis is simply putting before our minds and hearts the world that God created and our responsibility as part of his creation to care for and protect the earth as our “common home,” to be “stewards of creation.” He asks us to reflect and think about it; to be grateful and pray for it; to commit ourselves to preserving it for ourselves and those who come after us. His concern for our “common home” makes good “common sense” not only for Catholics but for everyone.
In his insightful 2015 encyclical letter “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis makes the case that care for creation is not merely a good or nice thing to do: it is a moral imperative for all who inhabit the planet. We all have a role to play. He is not, however, the first Pope or only pope to draw our attention to our common home. Pope Benedict XVI before him wrote that “today the great gift of God's Creation is exposed to serious dangers and lifestyles which can degrade it. Environmental pollution is making particularly unsustainable the lives of the poor of the world ... we must pledge ourselves to take care of creation and to share its resources in solidarity (Angelus Address, August 27, 2006).”
Pope St. John Paul II before him wrote that "when man turns his back on the Creator's plan, he provokes a disorder which has inevitable repercussions on the rest of created order. If man is not at peace with God, then earth itself cannot be at peace. … Christians, in particular, realize that their responsibility within creation and their duty towards nature and the Creator are an essential part of their faith (1990 World Day of Peace Message, nos. 5 and 15).”
These ideas are not, therefore, new to our Catholic eyes and ears. No, they, and many like them, have been proposed frequently from the highest spiritual and moral authority in the Church over the last two decades. In our own country, the United States Bishops have affirmed that "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. … ‘Stewardship’ implies that we must both care for creation according to standards that are not of our own making and at the same time be resourceful in finding ways to make the earth flourish (USCCB, Renewing the Earth, 1991, p. 6).”
Strategies for “finding ways to make the earth flourish” will continue to be discussed and debated in the halls of government, in the research laboratories and lecture halls of science, in the writings and libraries of centers of learning all over the world and rightly so. But the care for creation, our common home cannot and should not linger there alone. It must find its way into the concern, consideration, conversation and commitment of all of us who share this common home. And it must be part of our prayer. That is what Pope Francis and the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” calls us to in the Church.
In his Inaugural Homily in Rome on March 19, 2013, as he assumed the Chair of St. Peter, Our Holy Father preached that “whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened. … Let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” He continued, “To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!”
On this “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” let us pray “Amen!”
Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M., J.C.D.
Bishop of Trenton