The Common Good

An Unsung Catholic Environmental Legacy

Current newspapers and blogs are replete with commentaries on the outcome of the presidential elections, the ailing economy, and life issues, especially abortion. But there is not enough mention lately about the urgency to halt and reverse the current ecological crisis.

We can see how increasing global temperatures result in polar ice caps rapidly melting, and we also are witness to the deforestation of the world's rainforests. According to even the most conservative estimates, over half of the world's plant, insect, and animal species reside in the rainforest.

The environmental crisis also contributes to social turmoil. For instance, rising sea levels could in the near future displace billions who reside along the world's coastlines. This "great flood" will undoubtedly have adverse affects especially on the world's poor, many of whom reside along the coasts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The late Pope John Paul II understood nature's importance and the interconnection of all economic, political, environmental, and spiritual issues. During his celebrated papacy, he issued several documents containing Catholic teachings on the environment.

Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation, issued for the 1990 World Day of Peace, is arguably his best ecological document. It explores biblical teachings on creation and their relevance to ecology; delves into the multifaceted ecological crisis and its effects on other social and justice issues; suggests that we should recognize the natural world as both ordered and as a common heritage; and urgently calls us to a new solidarity with nature. Finally, it stresses that halting the ecological crisis is a moral responsibly of the entire human family. Indeed, the Pontiff repeats throughout the document that "the ecological crisis is a moral issue."

Unfortunately, many tend to downplay John Paul II's ecological legacy. An article published in the National Catholic Reporter two months after John Paul's death mentioned that many disregarded the Pope's ecological teachings during his lifetime. The pope's official biographer, George Weigel, in the comprehensive index of his bestselling book Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II, mentions the Pope's concern with abortion, Arab-Israeli wars, atheism, biotechnology, birth control, capitalism, capital punishment, and chastity -- yet, Weigel fails to list the Pope's concern with the environment. This omission renders his understanding of John Paul II's legacy incomplete.

Pope John Paul II's authentically postmodern environmental teachings, shared with the world through encyclicals, statements, and speeches, contain rich seeds that should no longer be ignored by all who believe that a solution must soon emerge to alleviate the current social, economic, political, spiritual, and environmental crises damaging our world, our society, and ourselves.

Now, almost four years after Pope John Paul II's death, it is up to us all

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