On Sunday, Pope Francis launched an annual lecture on the state of the environment, striking a conciliatory tone with young people, whose voices he said will have to be heard “in an unprecedented manner”.
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The hour-long lecture, delivered at the congress centre of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Vatican City, is timed to coincide with the International Year of the Youth, which is currently taking place in Italy.
It was not just young people who he urged to care for the environment: “I cannot dismiss the concern that many of our brothers and sisters feel because they can see so many destructive forces around them, like an ever-growing population, increasing competition for scarce resources, an ecological crisis, the displacement of populations and the flight of refugees, climatic destruction and extreme temperatures, phenomena that are affecting everyone, from mothers and fathers to children, and also, perhaps, the beginning of a new and faster culture of waste.”
The date was chosen because this year the climate summit in Poland is scheduled to take place at the end of July. Yet several ministers from developing countries have already pulled out of the summit, expressing concern that the pledges made by rich countries would not be enough to limit global warming to well below 2C, the limit agreed at the Paris climate accord.
The pope focused his remarks on the “coming together” that will be needed to address the issue, as well as providing support for the church’s 200,000 field workers around the world who are currently “highly engaged” in defending the earth.
Referring to those very workers, he said: “Let’s see to it that we listen to each one of them with all due compassion, and guarantee them resources that enable them to build a safe home for their families and create a future in which the resources and environment of God’s creation can flourish.”
Pope Francis praised young people for their leadership in the fight against poverty and inequality, but he acknowledged that many young people were starting to get disillusioned. “Many young people are asking hard questions about the future, if not the present. They are concerned, unsettled and anxious. In a sense, they feel they have been abandoned. We have to build a shared vision of a world that is worthy of our nature and children’s lives.”
At the same time, he said, “it is important for all of us to remember that our present is a gift from God; that the purpose of human life is to give it to the future, to pass on the gifts, learn from our mistakes and to develop our skills so that we may be able to give more love to each other.
The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave his own address, during which he spoke about the “penumbra of wisdom” that lurks within each person, capable of revealing itself when things go wrong. Francis, like Welby, is also a man of “penumbra wisdom”, demonstrating a good gift for communicating in that delicate spiritual sub-field of Scripture.