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Transforming hearts, lifestyles, public policies will bring about ‘ecological conversion,’ bishops say

An aerial view shows trees as the sun rises at the Amazon rainforest in Manaus in Brazil's Amazonas state Oct. 26, 2022. (OSV News photo/Bruno Kelly, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — For the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation Sept. 1 and the Season of Creation that follows, Pope Francis “invites us to reflect on the relationship between justice and creation,” said the chairmen of the U.S. bishops’ domestic and international policy committees.

“Pope Francis invites us to ‘transform our hearts, our lifestyles, and the public policies (to) contribute to the mighty river of justice and peace in this Season of Creation,'” the two bishops said in a reflection released Aug. 29.

The joint message was issued by Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, who is chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace.

“Let Justice and Peace Flow” is the theme of the day of prayer and the Season of Creation that follows. The season is a monthlong ecumenical period for prayer and action to promote ecological principles. It ends Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis Assisi.

Archbishop Gudziak and Bishop Malloy point out that the 2023 theme was inspired by Scripture, specifically Amos 5:24: “Let justice flow on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”

“The power, simplicity and clarity of water offers a vivid metaphor,” they said. “In so doing, the Holy Father recounts our foundational starting point: we must ‘seek first the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 6:33). With our souls rightly ordered to His Kingdom through the waters of baptism, we can properly order our relationship to others and to His creation.”

U.S. geography and history “predispose us to recognize the image of divine blessings expressed as flowing waters,” they said. “Countless rivers and watersheds grace the North American continent … connecting the United States to its immediate neighbors, Canada and Mexico. … Our nation is bound by the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans, sources of life, economic well being, biodiversity, recreation, inspiration, and beauty.”

“The abundant waterways of our country have brought productive farms and flourishing urbanizations,” the prelates said. “Yet along with economic prosperity and ingenuity, our waterways have been filled with pollution, contamination, and garbage bringing injustice to peoples, creatures, and ecosystems.”

“We must change!” Archbishop Gudziak and Bishop Malloy said. “Beginning with our hearts, guided by the Holy Spirit, may the powerful imagery of water inspire us towards ecological conversion. Any true conversion has its beginning and end in God himself; it is God, through the saving work of His Son, who converts. Like water, the irresistible current of the Holy Spirit can help make space and find silence so that God can act within us.”

During the Season of Creation, “let us seek slowness and silence so that prayer can more readily flow. Rather than overly relying on “things that are faster and faster … we need a Church that kindles hearts and warms them.”

They urged the faithful to consider “the simplicity of water” when it comes to lifestyle. “In the United States, with our vast economy, we face a perennial temptation to live beyond our needs,” they added, while the income gap “between rich and poor” grows wider and “so many brothers and sisters lack the basics.”

“It is not wrong to seek prosperity and to enjoy the pleasures of things — we are called to ’till and keep’ (Gen 2:15) the earth after all,” Archbishop Gudziak and Bishop Malloy said. “An ecological lifestyle is not about pauperism or austerity, but an invitation to modesty and simplicity that increases our freedom to live as we ought regardless of our economic means. To live simply allows both the poor and rich to share in a common solidarity with each other and with creation, remembering where all resources ultimately come from.”

“During this Season of Creation, let us consider our lifestyle choices and foster greater generosity towards those who have less,” they added.

Archbishop Gudziak and Bishop Malloy said Christ’s followers also must seek “environmental justice in public policy.”

“The ecological conversion of hearts and changes in lifestyles are important for us as individuals and our holiness, but it is the public policy decisions about collective impacts that will significantly change the course of our environmental future,” they explained. “The political dimension of public life is essential for integral ecology, and we must be engaged in civic life as people of faith.”

They called for pursuing “rapid decarbonization” — ‘an energy revolution’ — to seriously address climate change, yet without doing so on the backs of the poor and underprivileged.”

“The poor suffer the most from climate change and natural disasters,” they continued, and they have fewer resources to adapt because they are “deprived of the many goods provided” by “energy-intense” and “historically high carbon-emitting” economies.

“Energy-poor nations are increasingly lorded over with conditions to provide basic energy while the world transitions away from fossil fuels,” the prelates said, adding that this all takes place amid “the complex threats of an increasingly multipolar world, with wars and threat of wars and other critical considerations of justice to our common home and the most vulnerable.”

What is needed is “greater discernment and action to address both ‘the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor,'” they said. “With humility and hope, may this serve to call us to a deeper abiding prayer for ‘thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.’ Let us remain steadfast in light of the unfailing justice and righteousness set before us.”

Archbishop Gudziak and Bishop Malloy concluded with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, that as the church prepares for the world Synod of Bishops Oct. 4-29 at the Vatican, the people of God may be “of one Spirit, one people, caring for our one ‘common home.'”

The document’s full text is available here.

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