The year 2002 was proclaimed “Year of Mountains, Oceans and Ecology”.  Let us toast to the United Nations, who had the happy idea.

And let us salute St. Francis, prince of ecologists, who loved all created beings and gave the earth the affectionate names of “mother” and “sister”.

In fact, creatures are our companions, relatives and “sisters”, since their existence and ours are mutually implicated.  This fraternal complicity leads us to act as stewards of nature and not as absolute lords; unselfishly and not hoarding; without predation but with respect and delight for mountains and rivers, forests and seas, animals and plants.

And does not the earth deserve the title of “mother”? She nourishes and nurtures all creatures with her intense love and successive fecundity. Our survival, our sustenance and our life depend on her. But the wear and tear caused by over-consumption is destroying and depleting her. I fear that one day its womb will no longer be able to shed its being in cataracts and it will be depleted and infertile, deserted and unproductive for future generations.

Throughout the ages, our relationship with nature has been inspired by two biblical texts, the first of which is God’s command to man and woman: “Fill the earth and subdue it”. This phrase has sometimes justified a kind of aggressive domination of nature. Dominion over creation has become tyranny over creatures.

The second text, fortunately, leads us to review attitudes and procedures: “God left man in the garden to tend it”. For centuries, the cultivation of fields and the creation of animals, as part of a commitment to the conservation and beautification of nature, were seen as a new creation, a new genesis, in some cases transforming deserts and scrubland into forests, orchards and gardens.

But then came the industrial revolution and the scenario took a turn for the worse. Population growth and, above all, increased energy consumption triggered unlimited exploitation of natural resources and pollution of the environment. The alarm bells rang loudly: the depletion of nature and the pollution of water and air were reaching dangerous, if not irreversible, levels. The effects of global warming, for example, are more devastating than the terrorist attack in New York.

At the same time, it seems that the inhabitants of developed countries are changing species: from intelligent and free beings to mere animals of production and consumption.  They are guided from childhood to become spenders. Advertising is multiplying their desires and segregating new needs.

Worse still, the enjoyment of goods is criminally unequal between rich and poor countries. In many parts of the world, hunger strikes, not because of a lack of resources, but because they are poorly distributed. Advances in science and technology and mastery of the universe have not translated into well-being for all. The earth has not become a better resting place, nor have the ocean waves become more welcoming and cleaner. Some people live too well because others live too badly. Some swim in the superfluous, because others lack the necessary. If some rich people do not live more simply, many poor people will not be able to live.

Perhaps because of all this, the number of men and women who dream of a new wisdom is growing. A new way of life in freedom from power and money. A choice for simplicity in food, clothing, means of transport, tools of work, entertainment and leisure. A new awareness that “the only true human unity – according to Teilhard de Chardin – is that of the spirit of the earth: when man destroys something, he destroys himself, and when he creates something, he develops himself. Smelling the earth, feeling the pulsating humus, he becomes more human.

The “consumer man”, drugged by “having”, slave of fictitious needs, unsatisfied accumulator, is opposed to the “servant man” who aspires to “be” more fraternal and in solidarity. The art of sobriety goes perfectly with beauty, truth and joy.

This is the way: to treat as members of the “family” the “brother” air and the “brother” river, the “brother” ox and the “brother” fish; to fraternise respectfully with the “brother” trees and even with the “sister” beasts. To live soberly, as a sign of communion – loving and compassionate – with the earth, our “mother” and our bosom.

But, above all, it is important to look with new love at our brothers and sisters “of blood and soul” who are our fellow human beings. Ecology, thank God, is in fashion. What is missing is the fashion of universal love.


Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf



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