Sep 19, 2021 Last Updated 5:13 PM, Sep 14, 2021

ECOLOGY AND MISSION AD GENTES

Categoria: I Nostri Dicono
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The Ecology Problem

At the end of the month of March, 2014, an updated report by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC)[1], was released. Most of those who have read the report state that this is the most explicit and categorical wakeup call to the world community on the precarious situation of the Earth. The report mentions that the effects of climate change are real and actual. According to the report, Climate Change is already affecting the food security of humanity. This means that there will be more hunger for more people all over the world. More human habitations are already exposed to dangers of violent flooding and prolonged drought. The inequality between the rich and the poor is bound to increase. Tropical diseases such as malaria will spread to higher grounds as the temperatures rise, thus expanding its area of influence in parts of the world where the malaria mosquitoes were not found before. Social consequences of the Climate Change are already being observed, especially in the form of major movements of peoples from the affected regions to the more human friendly parts of the earth; and wars and conflicts as people fight for the limited natural resources.

Scientists behind the report, (and there are many of them from around the world), have given different names to the phenomenon. They call it Climate Change, the Green House Effect and Global Worming. The main cause according to the scientists is emission of destructive gases, which include Carbon Dioxide, Methane and Nitrous Oxide. These gases are emitted by the machines that use fossil fuels such as Petrol and Diesel, on the one hand; and domestic appliances such as fridges and air conditioners on the other hand. Excessive use of fertilizers in farming results in the release of some of these poisonous gases into the atmosphere. Effectively, the condition of the earth has been drastically compromised by the life style at the centre of modern technology and its economic thrust.

Literally, these gases eat away the atmospheric layer that protects the earth from the harmful rays of the sun, namely the ozone layer! Through the opening caused by the mentioned gases, the sun’s harmful rays penetrate into our atmosphere causing a worming effect that is comparable to the green house. This causes a general rise in temperature within the earth’s surface. Such higher temperatures cause the glacial ice to melt thus raising the levels of the ocean. With such rising levels, the people living along the shores are displaces as the waters overflow. The warmth causes unprecedented climatic change with such phenomena as tornadoes and hurricane as the ones frequently witnessed in the recent past. These are the effects that have given rise to the expressions, “global worming”, “green house effect” and “climate change”.

Climate Change is not exclusively blamed on the emission of toxic gases alone. There are other factors as well. The rate at which forests are being cleared from the rain forest areas, (either to create room for farming, or just to exploit the wood for fuel or for furniture), in Africa (especially in the Congo Region), in Latin America (especially in the Amazon region) and some parts of Asia has drastically reduced the water catchment area and encouraged the advancement of the desert in the world. The logging process that has been provoked by the timber market is rapidly eliminating trees which have taken hundreds of years to grow. The bio-diversity of various plants and animals within these rain forests have been majorly reduced, rapidly causing the extinction of some rare species of animals and medicinal plants. This has a negative effect on the balance of the ecosystem that the various components of creation were designed to survive on.

The waters have as well been polluted especially by the various industries which use rivers and other sources of water, both as cooling systems and as discharge areas for the waste products from the factories. Most of the time such discharges are containing substances that are corrosive and poisonous. As the rivers flow to the main inlets to the lakes, seas and oceans, they deliver the toxic wastes into them. The volumes of contaminated waters continue increasing as the industries increase, and thus reducing the volumes of clean waters that could be used for drinking, bathing and irrigation. The life of both plants and animals whose habitat is in the water is being threatened and many species of fish and other forms of life in the ocean waters have already gone extinct. The water-borne diseases have also increased as peoples continue using contaminated waters. Some of these contaminations are permanent and or expensive to purify.

The soils are not spared from the great pollution either. Besides the waters, the earth’s soil has been for a long time used to bury some very poisonous and even radioactive material. The earth absorbs such chemical substances and keeps them such that any plant, animal or human that ever gets into contact with such contaminated soul gets affected. There are many cases where animals which feed on grass that grows on such grounds transmits the same contamination to humans as we consume the animal products. The same happens with crops. Such are the causes of many cancer diseases experienced world over. Modern agricultural technologies are also helping contaminate the soil. The many forms of pesticides and herbicides are retained by the soil upon which they are applied. These toxic substances pass into the ground waters as it rains and in turn contaminate the underground waters that many depend on for drinking and other domestic use.

All these issues being mentioned are making the habitable and “usable” part of the earth growing smaller and narrower, while the greater part of the earth becomes not only unusable, but also dangerous for human existence. But there is no end in sight to this aggressive exploitation, use and abuse of the mother earth. Technology, industrialisation and human development are tied fatally to the destruction of mother nature.

There are political, religious, cultural, economic, social and ethical sides to this ecology question. And especially there is a theological dimension to this problem. All that has happened in the world since the wake of industrial revolution has to do with the image man/woman has of him/herself, of God and of creation. And this is the key to our Missionary concern.

 

What went wrong?

There is an outstanding documentary entitled, “Amazonia, Ultima Llamata”. This documentary is about the Zòé tribe[2], who are a native tribe in the State of Parà on the Cuminapanema River in Brazil. They are a Tupi-Guarani people. The documentary presents these people as living in total dependence on nature. They strictly use what they need from the abundance of the river and the forest: be it for their food, medicine, ornaments, tools and even weapons. They have no contact or influence from the outside world. They have no phones, TVs, radios or internet. This is a people who live as part of nature. With the eyes of modern technology, they are outright primitive and backward. But looking at them from another perspective, this people have a message to the rest of the world. The message about simplicity, sobriety and respect for nature.

Thirty four years ago a movie was produced in South Africa, entitled, “The Gods Must be Crazy”. This is a film producing a sharp contrast between the modern technology and lifestyle and the simple life of the Bushmen living in the Kalahari Desert. Here again we see the simplicity, sobriety and respect for nature as lived in a context of a desert.

These two movies are a production by the modern mind driven with the pains and uncertainties of technology. They are perhaps a call to the modern man to reflect on the current situation. Obviously, nobody doubts the value of science and technology, and that significant gains have been made through them to improve the value and dignity of life. Despite that, the painful truth is that the order of things has been drastically overturned, and in the event, things have gone out of control.

The problem started when man created a strong separation between himself and the rest of creation. Literally man emerged from nature, cut the umbilical cord and created a new relationship between himself and the rest of nature. He became the creator, the conqueror and the ruler, the owner and the consumer. The rest of nature became the source of man’s insatiable gratification. Nature became the obstacle to man’s self realization, an obstacle that needs to be conquered, subdued and dominated. The rest of creation turned into an infinity of resources to be exploited for man’s needs for food, comfort and recreation. The way the rest of creation is was not good enough, its speed and capacity to supply was not fast enough for man whose attitude has become, “I want it now and I want it all”. The rest of creation has been pushed beyond its limits. Its mechanisms were manipulated so that it may give more and give it faster.

Human beings need a variety of foods, such as cereals, vegetables, fruits and different kinds of flesh. Most of the time these products are not readily available in nature, and if they are there, they are not in the right quality and at the right time when humans need them. Generally nature controls when to produce which kind of foods, for example, there are winter crops and there are summer crops. But we are not able to wait and to eat what nature can provide at any given time. We need our comfort despite the season. We provide the heat when the temperatures are low and we provide cold when the temperatures are high. We create bridges over rivers and valleys and make tunnels through the mountains. These are just a few examples of human efforts to transform the environment so that it fits our needs.

But these transformations come at a cost. We have changed landscapes, exposing the earth to certain physical weaknesses that expose it to floods and erosions. While machines of all kinds have made our work easier and faster, they have caused collateral effects such as undesirable noises, pollutions and drastically changed the meaning of human work. The genetic modification of the seeds and animal breeds have made these same husbandries delicate and perishable. Such crops as maize, bananas, potatoes and many others have been made hybrid and they cannot survive handing over from one generation to the other as our indigenous seeds used to. Having modified the natural seeds has made crop production delicate and precarious, and in the process, we have lost so many species of foods that had previously survived and served peoples over the years. More tragic is the dependence that all peoples have to depend on the scientists to provide them with the seeds to plant. Cross pollination bring unintended modification to the rest of the plants on the planet. Some of the hormones used to enhance the aesthetics (looks of the foodstuffs), the higher yields and all other caprices that modern man fancies, have affected the health of the very people who consume such foods and cause a string of new diseases and other health conditions and disorders.

But nature has a life of its own, and it has a purpose of its own according to the intentions of the creator. Man turning against nature for man’s selfish needs, without looking into the needs of nature puts man and nature on a collision course. Nature is reacting, and the effects are not desirable. These are the effects that are now called climate change phenomenon and wide spread cases of unprecedented diseases which are strictly linked to modern lifestyle. The solution to these problems are not found in the scientists’ laboratory, but in the unbreakable bond existing between all of creation. This bond is called the circle of life, where all creation shares in one life, willed, planned, created and distributed by one loving father of all. In this circle shares plant, animals and man.

 

The Earth as God’s Creation

The great contribution of the Old Testament to the cosmogony of the universe is that God as supreme Being is the creator, and that God created freely; and that God created in time; and that God created out of love. This makes of the Biblical God a very personal God with a very special relation to His creation. Other creation myths tend to portray the creator as creating either out of necessity or by accident, (which is the case in most Greek and Mesopotamia myths).

The Genesis story, especially the first narrative presents creation as a deliberate and systematic action by God. The first three days are dedicated to the work of creation through separation: light from darkness; upper waters from lower waters; land from the sea. This shows that God had a plan, and a strategic one at that. He first deliberately made the environment where life would be possible. Vegetation in the narrator’s mind belongs to the first round of creation! The last three days are dedicated to positive creation: the sun, the moon, the stars are created on the fourth day. Birds and fish are created on the fifth day. Finally animals and man are created on the sixth day. Everything is created by the word of mouth. And God found everything He created to be good.

Man has always been considered by God special. He is created in the image and likeness of God, a characteristic that is not granted to the other creatures. Man is put in charge of the rest of creation. This special status accorded man by the creator is not comprehensible outside the context of creation. The image and likeness that man shares with God is made visible and shining when man holds his place in creation, and especially when he plays his role of the shepherd of created things. At the same time, it is the presence of man in creation that gives meaning to the whole creation. The moment man and the rest of creation are separated or put in mutual antagonism, the initial chaos that existed before creation comes back into play.

God on the other hand did not create the world and then withdrew into His heavenly home. He never abandoned his creation. Actually creation was not done once and for all. God continues with his work of creation through divine providence[3]. He continues to make all things new. Creation continues to need God’s grace in order to persevere in existence. Eventually God is revealed through His creation. Paul writing to the Romans says: “For what can be known about God is perfectly plain to them since God himself has made it plain. Ever since God created the world his everlasting power and deity - however invisible – have been there for the mind to see in the things he has made”[4].

This context where God and man and the rest of creation meet and operate is called by Teilhard de Chardin, the “Divine Milieu”[5]. De Chardin follows closely in the inspiration and footsteps of both St. Bonaventure and Francis of Assisi in their spirituality on creation. The perennial philosophical and theological errors, those of monism, deism and pantheism are very tempting in this context if clear distinction between the creator and His creatures is not made. St. Francis remains the number one mystic whose deep spiritual experience of God’s love received expression in a genuine respect for creation. This enabled him to relate with all created things in a very anthropomorphic manner, as he referred to the sun, moon and other created things as members of his family.

This spirituality is not an isolated case in the Church. Actually, to the contrary, the theology of St. Paul is rich with images binding Christ to creation. The letter to the Romans, 8:19-23[6] gives a very strong parallel, between human salvation and that of the rest of creation. It appears that Christ the redeemer is not saving only humans but the entire creation. The history of salvation is not a reserved privilege of humans alone. Right from the beginning the whole creation is in the picture. The original insight we get from Genesis 1, where God uses the Word to bring everything into being is taken up by John in the prologue and identifies that Word as the Son Jesus, through whom everything received life[7]. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians makes Jesus not only co-creator, but the one who holds all things in being[8]. The paschal event receives its fullest meaning when the death and resurrection of Jesus is seen in the context of all creation, whereby everybody and everything is reconciled to God. Creation is not some ungodly reality that is indifferent to the human spiritual experience. It is oriented towards God, and participates in the divine worship. That is why Daniel earnestly invited the whole creation to bless the Lord![9]

The special position man holds in creation cannot be disputed. In Genesis, God prefers to create man in His own image and likeness. God explicitly gives man the mandate to be master of all creation[10]. This privilege has been often celebrated in other texts of the bible as is the case of Psalms 8[11]. But this position does not give man the right to disrespect and abuse creation. Man is part of creation. The paradox is that the name “Adam” is symbolic signifying that man is created from the soil, and especially, that man is a creature as any other. Man is not God. He is not the creator. God created clear boundaries that man should respect: “Then Yahweh God gave the man this admonition, ‘You may eat indeed of all the trees in the garden. Nevertheless of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat…[12] In addition, God set the seventh day as Sabbath[13], the day of rest. This rest, on the one hand is giving greater value to human work, which is done in dignity and not in slavery; and on the other hand it also meant giving rest to the rest of nature from exploitation. This Sabbath makes man become grateful for the gifts of nature that the creator has allowed him to use for his wellbeing[14].

The moment man crossed the line and succumbed to the temptation to being equal to God, he committed sin. And with this all the relations were broken: “Cursed are you above all livestock, and all wild animals! …. And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers …Cursed be the ground because of you; …[15] This original sin has been replicated in the new world order. Man has chosen to be like God in his dealings with the created world and the effects are devastating.

Philip Sherrard argues that it is a question of the wrong image we have of ourselves as humans in the context of creation that is causing the present environmental crisis. In his words: “This is the crux of our situation. The industrial and technological inferno we have produced around us and by means of which we are now devastating our world is not something that has come about accidentally. On the contrary, it is the direct consequence of our allowing ourselves to be dominated by a certain paradigm of thought—embracing a certain human image and a certain world image—to such a degree that it now determines virtually all our mental attitudes and all our actions, public and private[16]

As any reader can see, the environment question is basically a faith question. At the heart of it all is the Gospel question. Any missionary reading this reflections sees how and where our missionary concern fits into the environmental problem.

Our missionary concern

“In the present state of affairs, out of which there is arising a new situation for mankind, the Church, being the salt of the earth and the light of the world (cf. Matt. 5:13-14), is more urgently called upon to save and renew every creature, that all things may be restored in Christ and all men may constitute one family in Him and one people of God”.[17]

These words of the Ecumenical council, celebrated close to 50 years ago, are still as relevant and as urgent as they were when they were pronounced then. This is the major document that has inspired us as missionaries in the church for decades. The broad nature of the missionary context has made it necessary for our congregation to discern where we are most called at every historical moment. Evangelization, both as a concept and as a practice has remained open to further clarification and adaptation. Although most missionary activities for the greater part of the past have been focused on proclamation, that is, direct announcement of the Gospel message to the non Christians, in the last twenty years “new paths”[18] have been suggested for missionary consideration and involvement.

In that spirit the Xth General chapter celebrated in Sagana, Kenya, in 1999, listed new areas where the Consolata Missionaries should turn their attention. The Chapter referred to these areas as frontiers. Most privileged among them was singled out as CONSOLATION[19]. Traditionally our congregation refers to human promotion as consolation, and this is an integral part of our evangelization activity. The tenth General Chapter introduced consolation as follows: Right from the start, the Consolata Missionaries chose activities and means that we today could call "of consolation". In this, they were enlightened by the One who is for us inspiration of the kind of Mission which is the expression of a God who "comforts his people and has mercy on his afflicted" (Isaiah 49:13). This Mission is born from the compassionate heart of God, and it brings consolation to all humanity. In our title of Consolata Missionaries, and in the spirituality that underlines it, this mystery is enclosed. All our works of evangelization are permeated with its light. Some of its particular facets are worth looking into: 1. The Announcement of the Gospel, 2. Being near to the people, 3. Human promotion, 4. Commitment to Justice and Peace.

It is now becoming clear to the reader that most of the activities that the missionary is involved in, in the facets of human promotion and Justice and peace are just engaging the symptoms, not the root causes of human condition. The issues of injustices in its various forms, the disparity of the rich and the poor, the mass exodus of peoples turned into migrants or refugees, the numerous natural calamities, diseases, famine and endless wars need to be addressed from a different theological perspective. If we have separated nature from man and discriminatively privileged man, now is the time that our attitude toward the rest of creation should become more central. This is in line with the universal plan of salvation and of God’s kingdom.

Often when issues of justice and peace are addressed, reluctantly “integrity of creation” is almost reluctantly mentioned as an appendix of the theme. But the things should now be turned around and the integrity of creation should be the guiding compass which leads us into tackling the issues of justice and peace. Eventually the issues of justice and peace will guide us towards an integral evangelization. This is the reason why Consolata promoters of justice and peace during the millennium celebrations declared that “Justice and Peace is the new name of Evangelization”[20]

Given the impact of the environmental issues on the earth, the peoples, and our missionary activities, time has now come to put ecology at the centre of our agenda. We need to be interested in the issues, form people for the proper and effective ministry to the integrity of creation and to get more involved collaboratively with other like minded groups and movements in solidarity to save the earth with its humanity.[21]

For immediate preparation for this new and yet perennial mission earth, the following publications will be most relevant and even updated:

 

References for further reading

Edwards, Denis, Ecology at the Heart of Faith – The Change of Heart that Leads to a new way of living on Earth, Orbis Books, New York, 2006.

Chryssavgis, John and Foltz, Bruce, V., Eds., Towards an Ecology of Transfiguration – Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature and Creation, Fordham University Press, New York, 2013.

Stocker, Thomas, f., Qin, Dahe et al., Eds., Climate Change 2013 – The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2013.

De Chardin P. Teilhard, The Divine Milieu – An Essay on the Interior Life, Harper Torchbooks, New York, 1965.



[1]                     Thomas F. Stock, Dahe Qin et al. Eds., Climate Change 2013, The Physical Science Basis. Working Group 1 Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2013.

[2]                      Ultima Llamada Directed by Luis Miguel Domingues, New Atlantis Documentales: The Zoe Tribe (2000)

 

[3]                     He covers the heavens with clouds, he prepares the rain for the earth, making mountains sprout with grass, and with plants to serve man’s needs. He provides the beasts with their food and young ravens that call upon him. (Psalms 146:8-9).

[4]                     Romans 1:19-20.

[5]                     P. T. de Chardin, The Divine Milieu, Harper Torchbooks, New York, 1965, Especially from page 112 ff.

[6]                     The whole creation is eagerly waiting for God to reveal his sons. It was not for any fault on the part of creation that it was made unable to attain its purpose, it was made so by God; but creation still retains the hope of being freed, like us, from its slavery to decadence to enjoy the same freedom and glory as the children of God. From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth, and not only creation but all of us who possess the first-fruits of the spirit, we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free…

[7]                     John 1:1-5, 14.

[8]                     Colossians 1:15-20.

[9]                     Daniel 3:57-88.

[10]                   Genesis 1:26-29

[11]                   Yet you have made him little less than a god, you have crowned him with glory and splendour, made him lord over the work of your hands, set all things under his feet… (vs. 5-6).

[12]                   Genesis 2:16-17.

[13]                   Genesis 2:1-2

[14]                   The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Chapter six on Human Work.

[15]                   Genesis 3:14-19.

[16]                   Philip sherrard, “Human image, World image: the Renewal of Sacred Cosmology” in Towards An Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature and Creation, (Edited by John Chryssavgis and Brucfe V. Poltz), Fordham University press, New York, 2013. P. 212.

[17]                   Decree Ad Gentes on the Mission Activity of the Church, the preface.

[18]                   Redemptoris Missio, Chapter V.

[19]                   The most detailed exegesis so far prepared on the theme of Consolation by a Consolata confrere is that one entitled “Missione e Consolazione nella Bibbia”, written by Fr. Antonio Magnante, and published in the Euntes Docente, 1989, no. 3, pp. 391-422.

[20]                   Incontro Continentale di Giustizia e Pace, Maputo, 24-29 Settembre 2001.

[21]                   The first tool that has been distributed widely to our missionaries all over the world is the manual for justice and peace integrity of creation. This tool has doctrinal content, scientific information and extensive bibliographic data that should help missionaries get informed and involved. In order not to make the article too long, reference is given for further reading.

 

 

 


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