Environmental Protection Part of Church Social Teaching

VATICAN CITY—The Catholic Church must use biblical precepts and its social teaching to help people see the importance of protecting the environment, Pope John Paul II said.

“The environment embraces all that surrounds us and all upon which human life depends,” the Pope said in a written message to the Nov. 6–9 plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

ZENIT, the Rome-based news service, reported that the Pope had planned to close the assembly with an address but instead sent his thoughts in the form of a letter because the gathering conflicted with his scheduled visits to India and Georgia.

The council dedicated its 1999 assembly to environmental issues and related theological questions, the relationship between poverty and the environment, use of the earth's resources, and ways the Church could promote care for the environment.

Addressing the assembly's main theme, Pope John Paul said the use of the earth's resources is a particularly important question from the point of view of social justice and Catholic social teaching.

“Reflecting on the environment in the light of sacred Scripture and the social teaching of the Church, we cannot but raise the question of the very style of life promoted by modern society and, in particular, the question of the uneven way in which the benefits of progress are distributed,” he said.

The Pope encouraged the council to help Catholics recognize their “obligation to work for greater justice and equality in the way people are enabled to share in the resources of God's creation.”

The assembly also was scheduled to discuss its progress in drafting the Catechism of Social Teaching, at the request of Pope John Paul.

In his message, the Pope said the “compendium or approved synthesis of Church social doctrine” would help Catholics learn what the Church teaches on social issues and see how important the teaching is.

The Pope said he hoped the catechism would be published during the Holy Year 2000.

Vietnamese Archbishop FranÇois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, announced during the recent Synod for Europe that the catechism would most likely be published on May 1, 2000.

Archbishop Thuan told the assembly, “The environmental crisis is one of the-most critical and decisive problems which humankind must face and resolve.”

The council, he said, would look at the question not only because of its contemporary relevance, but because there is a need “to advance the moral reflection and the social doctrine of the Church in this regard.”

Environmental degradation is a “warning light” that indicates “a deep anthropological crisis.” The literal “groaning of creation” is a result of human misuse and exploitation.

For centuries, he said, people used natural resources to survive, protecting and caring for their land, which was the source of their sustenance.

“With the industrial revolution, economic development brought unheard of problems,” said Archbishop Thuan. People began to see the environment “as something foreign, separate and even hostile,” something to be exploited for “maximum profit with minimum cost.”

Such an attitude proves “a strange superficiality of faith,” because from the beginning God created man and woman along with the environment and charged them with cultivating and guarding it.

The destruction of the environment, he said, must be seen as a challenge to each individual's conscience. (From combined wire services)