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In God’s Plan, It’s Not Earth vs Humanity

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In God’s Plan, It’s Not Earth vs Humanity

Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, today addressed a conference on “Care for our Common Home in the context of Large Scale Investments in Mining and Agriculture in Lusaka, Zambia.

His speech was entitled “An Overview of Laudato si’ – What are the main issues and key concerns?

Vatican Radio provided the full text of the cardinal’s speech:


“Care for our Common Home in the context of Large Scale Investments in Mining and Agriculture

Popularisation of Laudato si’ Conference

The New Government Complex, Lusaka, 25-26 April 2016

An Overview of Laudato si’ – What are the main issues and key concerns?

Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson



Warm greetings to you from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. With gratitude to the Zambian Bishops’ Conference for sponsoring this conference popularising Laudato si’. This very important encyclical touches on timely issues of the natural and social environment, as well as fundamental issues of faith, economy, natural resources, development, progress and lifestyle.

Thank you for inviting us to reflect deeply on Care for our Common Home in the context of large scale investments in agriculture and mining. This Conference draws participants from the Church, relevant government institutions, the private sector in mining and agriculture, concerned organizations of civil society, and many key stakeholders.

Pope Francis himself offers us a quick review of the encyclical. Let us watch his short video now – it takes just a minute and a half![1]

Let me please suggest the take-aways,to keep in mind throughout today’s discussions:

These take-aways represent the major strokes of Laudato si’ in which Pope Francis does three essential things:


I. Catholics and Creation

The Catholic doctrine of creation does not regard the world as an accident. Our planet, indeed the universe, is an intentional act of God that is provided to human beings as a gift. Creation is not just passing from nothing to many things, a lot of “stuff getting made. Rather, creation is the first step in the great human vocation of creation, incarnation, redemption.

Humanity is not an afterthought. God did not have two agendas: first the world and then humanity. Man and woman are made in the image and likeness of God, they are an intrinsic part of the universe, and their vocation is “to till and to keep it all. But tilling and keeping cannot include domination and devastation — lest we till too much and keep too little! These make a mockery of dignity and respect of God’s gifts. We are called to participate in ongoing creation and in its ongoing redemption.

In this light, we should find it easy to understand the concerns of Pope Francis for the poor and for nature. He is not offering worldly advice on how to be prudent and practical, although his message has immense practical consequences. Rather, he is reminding us of:

Here is how Laudato si’ presents these ideas.

The second Chapter of Laudato si’ recounts the creation story and asserts its moral implications. Pope Francis articulates the “tremendous responsibility (§90) of humankind for creation, the intimate connection among all creatures and the fact that “the natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone (§95).The collective good and the responsibility of all: these are the essential elements of his insistent message about the moral dimension of how we treat nature and the rest of creation.

But the relationship with nature does not stand alone; it is intertwined with other dimensions. In the Bible, “the God who liberates and saves is the same God who created the universe, and these two divine ways of acting are intimately and inseparably connected (§73). The story of creation is central for reflecting on the relationship between human beings and other creatures. “These accounts suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin (§66). Sin breaks the equilibrium: harmony and communion of all creation. Thus, Pope Francis writes: “The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; ‘she groans in travail’ (Rom 8:22) (§2).

These are strong words. The Holy Father wishes to end our sometimes sinful relationships with nature Thus, even if “we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures (§67). Human beings have the responsibility to “‘till and keep’ the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15) (§67), knowing that “the ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all creatures are moving forward, with us and through us, towards a common point of arrival, which is God (§83).

Where does this leave us? Dominion must not be absolute domination. Other creatures have their own dignity and purpose. As we search for the right balance, we must avoid two pitfalls. One would be to regard everything as fundamentally the same and “deprive human beings of their unique worth and the tremendous responsibility it entails. The other would be to fall prey to “a divinization of the earth which would prevent us from working on it and protecting it in its fragility (§90).

This brings Pope Francis to certain virtues and attitudes that are most appropriate to our relationship with creation. Being so connected to all living things, we must accept that “every act of cruelty towards any creature is ‘contrary to human dignity’ (§92). Moreover, “a sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings (§91; also §2 and §217). What is needed is the awareness of a universal communion: all are “called into being by the one Father. All of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect (§89).

II. Catholics and Care: Capitalism in Laudato si’

Let us turn now from creation to care for creation, and care for our common home.

A great innovation of Pope Francis is that he advocates something more than stewardship. In Laudato si’ he uses the word “steward only twice, and instead speaks about care. It is in the title, “Care for our Common Home, and is repeated dozens of times.

Care goes further than “stewardship. Good stewards take responsibility and fulfil their obligations to manage and to render an account. But one can be a good steward without feeling connected. If one cares, however, one is connected. To care is to allow oneself to be affected by another, so much so that one’s path and priorities change. Good parents know this. They care about their children; they care for their children, so much so that parents will sacrifice enormously—even their lives—to ensure the safety and flourishing of their children. With caring, the hard line between self and other softens, blurs, even disappears.

Pope Francis proposes that we think of our relationship with the world and with all people in terms of caring. Jesus teaches this when he calls himself the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11-15). Caring for our common home requires, as Pope Francis says, not just an economic and technological revolution, but also a cultural and spiritual revolution—a profoundly different way of living the relationship between people and the environment, a new way of ordering the global economy.

To speak in this way locates Laudato si’ in the great tradition of Catholic Social Teaching. 125 years ago, Pope Leo XIII responded to the res novae or “new things of his time, when the industrial economy was only a century old and posed many dilemmas, especially for workers and families. Similarly, 50 years ago, in the era of newly independent nations emerging in the 1960s, Pope Paul VI took up the issue of the development of the human person and nations, whole and entire, in his encyclical letter, Populorum Progressio. Development, for Blessed Paul VI, was the new name of peace! So too, Pope Francis is responding to the “new things of our day, when a post-industrial, globalized economy is posing many challenges for humanity and for the planet.

The key principles of our Catholic Social Teaching ground the messages of Laudato si’.

If participants in the market were truly moral actors, motivated by the pursuit of virtue, and if trade was fair and free, markets would promote healthy competition, creativity and innovation. They would have the happiness and flourishing of people as their goal.[2]

Now, however, “Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, Pope Francis says, “people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending… When people become self-centred and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. (§203-4) And so, for Pope Francis, “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast (§217).

The Holy Father is not anti-business. But what he decries is an obsession with profit and the deification of the market. Profit has its role in sustaining an enterprise and allowing it to improve and innovate. Pope Francis calls upon business to lead by harnessing its creativity to solve pressing human needs. “More diversified and innovative forms of production which impact less on the environment can prove very profitable (§191) as well as sustainable.

To sum up, care integrates these principles and applies them to our global economic, environmental and social situation. Last week at the United Nations, I presented the Holy See’s views on the Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. The Holy See believes that the 2030 Agenda needs more than public financing; it also requires financing and investment in accordance with value-based criteria by private investors, as a necessary complement to public finance. All stakeholders need to engage in ethical financial activity to eliminate social inequality and to develop an ambitious new agenda to better “care for our common home. Indeed, we are called “to care even when dealing with finance. Ethically irresponsible financial activity produces social inequalities. When we cast aside anything precious in the world, we destroy part of ourselves too, because we are completely connected. By caring, we are inspired to practice responsible finance and promote value-based investing in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.[6]

III. Caring for Creation in Agriculture and Mining

There are few human activities more fundamental than agriculture. Cultivation and domestication are ancient in origin, and now we rely on sustainable agriculture to feed and nourish the world’s people. This is more important than ever in a world of over 7 billion people. The Sustainable Development Goal # 2, for example, calls explicitly for the world community to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. Goal 12 calls for “sustainable consumption and production patterns. And Goal 15 calls for the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems.

Sustainable agriculture represents the deepest level of integral ecology. We are asked to nourish and sustain the earth, so that it can in turn nourish and sustain us. If we despoil the earth, we end up hurting our fellow human beings, especially the poor. The challenges are enormous. In today’s world, about a billion people go hungry and another billion lack vital micronutrients – while 30-40 percent of all food is wasted. To feed the more than 7 billion people alive today – which will rise to 9 billion by mid-century—we need to make sure that agriculture is productive and sustainable.

If we fail to make investments in sustainable agriculture, we are not performing our sacred duty to the poor and to future generations. As Pope Francis put it, “Let us not only keep the poor of the future in mind, but also today’s poor, whose life on this earth is brief and who cannot keep on waiting (§162).

But we face a double-edged sword. Thanks to the green revolution and the use of fertilizers, crop yields have risen from the range of one half to one ton per hectare to about 3 to 5 tons per hectare. And one reason why sub-Saharan Africa lags behind is deficient soil nutrients – crops yield only between one and one and a half tons per hectare. But excessive use of fertilizers also leads to grave ecological damage. These chemicals can poison the soil and hurt biodiversity. Agriculture is a major emitter of greenhouse gases. Agriculture often adds to the depletion of freshwater resources. And agriculture is often the main rationale for deforestation.

This can become a vicious cycle. Just as agriculture can harm the environment, environmental change can in turn hurt agriculture. For example, as the earth warms due to climate change, the first casualty will be crop productivity, especially in arid regions like the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.[7] And as Pope Francis notes, “greater scarcity of water will lead to an increase in the cost of food (§31).

Sustainable agriculture is therefore one of humanity’s most important problems, and also one of the toughest. Solving it means improving the ability to grow food by being more productive in poorer regions, while at the same time respecting the rhythms of nature and not despoiling creation. But the solution cannot be purely technocratic. It cannot embody the “technocratic paradigm that Pope Francis warns us about. It also requires solidarity between the richer and poorer countries, and it requires more sober lifestyles, and far less food waste among the affluent—and more attentiveness to the impact of their actions on the planet and the poor. As Pope Francis noted, “whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor (§50).

For Pope Francis, the solution includes respecting, and investing in, small-scale agriculture—in systems that can end hunger, support dignity, and protect the environment. I will quote him on this:

“There is a great variety of small-scale food production systems which feed the greater part of the world’s peoples, using a modest amount of land and producing less waste, be it in small agricultural parcels, in orchards and gardens, hunting and wild harvesting or local fishing. Economies of scale, especially in the agricultural sector, end up forcing smallholders to sell their land or to abandon their traditional crops. Their attempts to move to other, more diversified, means of production prove fruitless because of the difficulty of linkage with regional and global markets, or because the infrastructure for sales and transport is geared to larger businesses. Civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production (§129).

That means that public authorities with the common good in mind must direct the legitimate tools of business, such as capital investment and responsible governance, to create the conditions for sustainable agriculture. The purpose: not so that a few can make colossal profits, but that all may live in dignity. “Agriculture in poorer regions can be improved through investment in rural infrastructures, a better organization of local or national markets, systems of irrigation, and the development of techniques of sustainable agriculture (§180).


The case of mining is quite different from agriculture. If agriculture is about cultivating and caring for the land, mining is about extracting resources—typically in pursuit of profit, often short-term profit divorced from the common good. Pope Francis is clear about this: “The earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production. (§32)

In Laudato si’, Pope Francis discusses the important idea of an ecological debt: “A true ‘ecological debt’ exists, particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time. (§51) It is too often the case that multinational corporations outsource not only economic activity, but they ‘outsource morality’ too—by treating the host countries in ways they would not treat their home countries, with often devastating impacts on the environment. Unfortunately, many of the culprits are in the mining sector: “The export of raw materials to satisfy markets in the industrialized north has caused harm locally, as for example in mercury pollution in gold mining or sulphur dioxide pollution in copper mining. (§51)

Given this stark indictment, can we say that mining is an ethical industry? The answer is yes—it can be and it must be! The key is to intervene in nature with an ethic of care rather than a mentality of disrespect, or even violence. These interventions cannot be based on short-term profit maximization. Rather, Pope Francis says, “only when ‘the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations’, can those actions be considered ethical. (§195)

Along similar lines, he says the following: “In the face of possible risks to the environment which may affect the common good now and in the future, decisions must be made ‘based on a comparison of the risks and benefits foreseen for the various possible alternatives’. This is especially the case when a project may lead to a greater use of natural resources, higher levels of emission or discharge, an increase of refuse, or significant changes to the landscape, the habitats of protected species or public spaces (§184).

All businesses, including in the mining sector, are called upon to support the common good by investing in sustainability. This is not just good for the planet, but it is a good investment for the business itself. As Pope Francis says, “efforts to promote a sustainable use of natural resources are not a waste of money, but rather an investment capable of providing other economic benefits in the medium term (§191).

I should say a special word here about coal mining. Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, and it needs to be phased out. Laudato si’ is clear about this: “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.(§165) Yet the transition to renewable energy needs to be based on justice—the miners, especially those who have no hope of finding alternative employment, must be cared for.


When it comes to both agriculture and mining, Pope Francis is acutely aware of the particular struggles faced by indigenous peoples. Too often “pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture (§146). And what is true for indigenous peoples also applies to many, if not all, peasant producers and marginalized peoples.

At the end of the day, we need a global consensus that “could lead, for example, to planning a sustainable and diversified agriculture, developing renewable and less polluting forms of energy, encouraging a more efficient use of energy, promoting a better management of marine and forest resources, and ensuring universal access to drinking water (§164).


IV. Conclusion

The core social message of Pope Francis is that humanity is a single family, and we all must care for the common home that we share. In that home entrusted to us by the Creator, we must not repudiate our Father’s love by telling our brothers and sisters to scavenge for food and clothing in garbage dumps. We must not repudiate our Father’s love by letting people lead unfulfilling lives while machines replace them in the work place.

Laudato si’ welcomes the environmental awareness growing world-wide, along with concern for the damage that is being done. And in spite of the enormous offenses committed by the privileged, the Pope keeps a hopeful outlook on the possibility of reversing the trend: “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home… Men and women are still capable of intervening positively… All is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start. These many expressions of hope are found throughout Laudato si’.[8] We have received the world as a garden-home; let us not bequeath a wilderness to our children and generations to come!

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(from Vatican Radio)


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