Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches Unite for Creation
Over the weekend, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Holiness Pope Francis met at the Apostolic Delegation in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was a historic moment, as the two leaders signed a Joint Declaration affirming their commitment to seek unity between their ecclesial bodies — the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
The Joint Declaration also reaffirmed their responsibility to foster a sense of humility and moderation so that all may feel the need to respect creation and to safeguard it with care:
“It is our profound conviction that the future of the human family depends also on how we safeguard – both prudently and compassionately, with justice and fairness – the gift of creation that our Creator has entrusted to us. Therefore, we acknowledge in repentance the wrongful mistreatment of our planet, which is tantamount to sin before the eyes of God. We reaffirm our responsibility and obligation to foster a sense of humility and moderation so that all may feel the need to respect creation and to safeguard it with care. Together, we pledge our commitment to raising awareness about the stewardship of creation; we appeal to all people of goodwill to consider ways of living less wastefully and more frugally, manifesting less greed and more generosity for the protection of God’s world and the benefit of His people.”
The Orthodox Church’s beliefs are deeply rooted in environmental stewardship, so it’s not a surprise that the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has a long history of connecting the Church’s spiritual values with environmental ethics. A month after his election in 1991, he convened an ecological gathering in Crete entitled “Living in the Creation of the Lord.” And since then he’s built partnerships with world leaders, established the Religious and Scientific Committee to encourage religious debate on the natural environment, and used his tenure to encourage environmental action. His endeavors have earned him the title “Green Patriarch” and the honor of being one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2008 for “defining environmentalism as a spiritual responsibility.”
Pope Francis has also joined the ranks of popes committed to environmental protection. He has denounced waste and materialism in the Catholic Church, and was famously photographed holding an anti-fracking shirt. Most recently, he made the biblical case for addressing climate change saying, “Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that god has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.” He also called humanity’s destruction of the planet a sinful act, likening it to self-idolatry.
The partnership between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches for the environment is great news. But the leaders have their work cut out for them. While it’s easy to say that hurting creation is a sin, it’s a lot harder to show people how best to respect the planet. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis should lead their followers towards a better relationship with the environment by taking specific steps to be good stewards themselves. While only they have the divine insight to know how to do this, I humbly suggest two ideas: divesting their churches from fossil fuels and urging a reduction in the consumption of meat.
News and Photo Source: Apostolic Pilgrimage to Jerusalem
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