We are in the month of September and we are still reaping the fruits of Laudato Si’, the most recent encyclical of Pope Francis. This papal letter has positioned the environmental crisis directly within the social sphere, requiring a comprehensive response and commitment from all of us. Undoubtedly, I think the most recent result of this encyclical on caring for “our common house” is ecumenism.
Unitatis Redintegratio, a decree from Pope Paul VI, defines ecumenism as “the initiatives and activities planned and undertaken, according to the various needs of the Church and as opportunities offer, to promote Christian unity.” (No.4).
Clearly, one of the major concerns of our time is the environmental crisis. Pope Francis uses it as a springboard to promote the unity of Christians. He quotes Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew’s concern for “the need for each to repent of their own ways for damaging the planet “(L.S. # 8) and the Patriarch’s view of the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems (L.S #9).
The call of Pope Francis to ecumenism is also demonstrated in his most recent announcement on the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord on August 6: “I wish to inform you that I have decided to set up also in the Catholic Church, the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” which, beginning this year, will be celebrated on the 1st of September, as the Orthodox Church has done for some time now.”
This time it is the Pope, the representative of the Catholic Church, who recognizes the value of this commemoration by the Orthodox Church and invites Roman Catholics to unite with them as fellow Christians to celebrate this Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation together.
The announcement of the World Day of Prayer for Creation Care seems implied in Laudato Si’ and becomes clear when presenting the encyclical as valued by the representative of the Patriarch Bartholomew, Metropolitan Ioannis of Pergamon. The text for the institution of the World Day for Care of Creation by Pope Francis makes this point:
Sharing with my beloved brother the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew his concerns for the future of creation (cf. Encyclical Letter. Laudato Si’, 7-9) and taking up the suggestion by his representative, the Metropolitan Ioannis of Pergamum who took part in the presentation of the Encyclical Laudato Si’ on the care of our common home, I wish to inform you that I have decided to set up also in the Catholic Church, the ‘World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation’ which, beginning this year, will be celebrated on the 1st of September, as the Orthodox Church has done for some time now.
This ecumenical observance that will be celebrated every September 1st invites us to pray with our Orthodox brothers and sisters for the care of creation. It will require a deep inner conversion as Unitatais Redintegratio says: “There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart. For it is from renewal of the inner life of our minds from self-denial and an unstinted love that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way. (No.7).
That change of heart spoken by the decree Unitatis Redintegratio also involves a constant review of the motivations fueling our passion for the care of creation and spirituality that makes us live within and with creation, achieving a communion with all that surrounds us, to look for the solutions to this ecological crisis, as our Pope expressed in Laudato Si’:
More than in ideas or concepts as such, I am interested in how such a spirituality can motivate us to a more passionate concern for the protection of our world. A commitment this lofty cannot be sustained by doctrine alone, without a spirituality capable of inspiring us, without an ‘interior impulse which encourages, motivates, nourishes and gives meaning to our individual and communal activity.’ Admittedly, Christians have not always appropriated and developed the spiritual treasures bestowed by God upon the Church, where the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us (L.S.# 216).
An ecumenical gesture of openness, to universally see the good in other churches is yet another gift that Laudato Si’ offers us, and calls us to witness this in our lives. In the words of our Holy Father: “This Day of Prayer for Creation Care will be a valuable opportunity to bear witness to our growing communion with our orthodox brothers.” It is precisely by this communion in prayer and reflection that we will take important steps to overcome common challenges more easily and be more credible and effective. In the words of our Holy Father, “We live in a time where all Christians are faced with identical and important challenges and we must give common replies to these in order to appear more credible and effective.”
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