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Recently, Pope Francis of the Catholic Church issued an Encyclical on Care for the Environment. It was the first time that the head of the Roman Catholic Church had veered into such an area. Many people might wonder what the environment has to do with religion. After all, they would maintain, the role of the Church is the salvation of souls.

The Book of Genesis describes God's creation. The universe is the work of his hands. The picture presented is that God is the Lord and Master of everything—man, animals, and plants, and even inanimate things. Everything falls under his domain and his concern. As such, there is a bond between all that exists. There is unity and harmony in all creation.

Holy Scripture teaches us that everything in creation is good. It is beautiful. It is lovable. It is to be nurtured. It is to be cherished. It ought to fire our imagination as we contemplate it. It is a work of wonder.

For long, people thought that man was empowered to exercise dominion over all that exists. It was felt that man had the right to use indiscriminately anything he encountered. He could exploit it for his own benefit. He could dispose of animals, plants and inanimate things as he willed. His personal good was the only measure of his relationship with everything else. He could promote or reduce the existence of certain animals. He could even control the weather. He could determine the course of rivers. People thought that it was legitimate to tamper with created things and the forces of nature at will.

The Encyclical of Pope Francis is a grand proclamation of the wonder of creation. It speaks of the beauty of Earth, which he says, is often tarnished by the greed and lack of caring of man. The Encyclical is entitled 'On the Care of our Common Home".

What the Encyclical teaches is that we have a moral duty to take care of the environment. We are the stewards of God's creation. The Pope emphasizes that the Earth is the home in which we live. We need to be comfortable in it. It is a wonderful place which God has given us. We need to approach it with respect.

There is often a tension between the perceived needs of development and the protection of the environment. Formerly, the need for developing natural resources prevailed. This has sometimes led to disaster. Today, we are called to reflect on the need for the preservation of nature's gifts. In all our development schemes, we need to consider the laws of the environment. Too vigorous a desire to promote a perceived good can be counterproductive.

Many years ago, when sugar was king in Antigua, a serious problem arose. At harvest time it was discovered that the sugar plantation was infested with snakes. A simple solution was found. Squirrels were introduced from overseas to destroy the serpents. Indeed, they did a very efficient job. They destroyed the snakes. But when there were no more snakes they turned on the chicken!

Recently, we in the Commonwealth of Dominica have been greeted with a watery, trumpet blast by Tropical Storm Erika. Our rivers, ravines, hills and mountains seemed to have turned against us. What are we to make of this? How are we to perceive our relationship with the rest of creation?

We believe in the goodness of Earth. We believe that creation is God's gift to us. All that is on earth and in the sky are our friends. As beneficiaries of these tremendous gifts, we are called to discern this and adapt our policies accordingly. Nothing that man manufactures can supersede the value of maintaining the integrity of the environment.

A few decades ago, Government contemplated the construction of a stadium at the Botanical Gardens. It was felt that this was the ideal spot to build a place for international sport. Fortunately, there was an outcry by a few inspired gentlemen. Their cries were loud and clear. The Government of the day yielded to their demands. We today are the beneficiaries of the forthrightness of caring citizens. Quiet, environmental spaces, tall, elegant trees, beautiful verdant pastures, flowers, birds fluttering hither and thither, can be a soothing balm for restless hearts. They can provide healing for the emotionally wounded. They can lift our hearts to things divine.

Pope Francis exhorts us to raise our vision of creation. It is a work of art. God is very proud of his handiwork. Creation is sacred. Let us regard it as a sacred treasure. Let us reverence it. This is the universal vocation of man.

Respect for the environment should not be limited to land, water, sea and sky. It should lead us to recognize the relationship which exists between people of every stature all over the world. "Each man's joy is joy to me. Each man's grief is my own." Pope Francis says that our communion with one another cannot be genuine if we lack tenderness and concern for one another.

Today, developmental policies have often led to the pollution of the atmosphere. We need to promote clean air and protect our waterways from harmful chemicals. Health is a gift of God and it must be cherished. Scenic sites can help to elevate mind and heart above overly mundane concerns.

Our goal must be harmony in all creation—harmony within ourselves, harmony with our brothers and sisters, harmony with the world in which we live. Pope Francis says, "Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society."


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