Creation is “a shared gift, not a private possession” and taking care of it “always entails the recognition and respect of the rights of every person and every people”. These the words of Pope Francis who sent a message to the international symposium on protecting the environment which took place in Athens, on the Attic peninsula, 5-8 June, convened by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, hosted by Patriarch Bartholomew.
Entitled “Toward a Greener Attica. Preserving the planet and protecting its people”, the symposium comes three years after the papal Encyclical Laudato Si’ and coincided with World Environment Day. It welcomed 250 participants: theologians and scientists, political and business leaders, as well as activists and journalists from all over the world. Together they explored the pressing environmental problems of the region and its islands, examining the connections between ecology and economy, particularly in the context of pressing social and environmental challenges of our time.
Among those invited was Maria Voce, President of the Focolare Movement founded by Chiara Lubich, a movement which over the years has developed its contribution to protecting the planet in many parts of the globe. “It is wonderful to see people from all over the world”, she reflected, “including religious leaders of different churches, gathering to seek solutions together in the hope that our planet can continue more serenely, if we protect and preserve it for the generations to come”. She added, “It’s very good to be looking at all aspects of ecology: the environment and its effect on people. What has come out strongly is that the whole planet is involved in ecology like this. Nature is a gift we receive from God and as such it must be welcomed with respect and gratitude. It must be passed on in the best way possible to our brothers and sisters who will come after us”.
The actual programme of the symposium displayed an “ecological approach”, mused Maria Voce. “The schedule was full, but interspersed with journeys to the surrounding Saronic islands, which provided opportunities to meet and talk with one another, making it easier to establish relationships through a combination of study, relaxation and international friendship. I think this meeting offers hope for the future of the planet”.
Much needed hope. Pope Francis has expressed his concerns over the risk that future generations may be condemned “to live in a common home that is reduced to ruins” or to leave their homelands because of climate change and disasters triggered by greedy exploitation of the earth’s resources. The Pope was represented at the symposium by Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development.
Recalling his joint message for the September 1st World Day of Prayer for Creation, written together with Patriarch Bartholomew, Pope Francis stated that “the duty to care for creation challenges all people of good will and invites Christians to recognize the spiritual roots of the ecological crisis and to cooperate in offering an unequivocal response”.
The main priority, concluded the Patriarch, popularly known as “the Green Patriarch” is to rethink the current economic system which “ignores the needs of human beings and inevitably leads to the exploitation of the natural environment”. Above all, he added, real change can only be born from the human heart. “The destruction of the natural environment can only be averted through a radical change in our perspective toward nature, which comes from a radical change in our self-perception as human beings”.
Claudia Di Lorenzi