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Friday, May 2, 2014

Vatican conference opener stresses “values education”

Image of Cardinal Maradiaga: Flicker/ Christoph Müller-Girod

Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, SDB, of Honduras today opened the Vatican’s sustainability conference, "Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility," by echoing every social encyclical issued by a pope in over a century.

He said that to tackle today’s ecological and economic crises we must bring about
an education on environmental values that encourages a culture of vitality, healthiness, respect and responsibility, and that builds individuals endowed with a discerning and participative conscience. As long as it is not addressed in this manner, environmental education will do no more than supply knowledge on the natural world, overlooking one of its principal roles: encouraging a change in perception that may be conducive to the emergence of new values.
In other words, our modern woes are reminding us of the dangers when we disconnect our sciences and technologies from a genuine love of neighbor. The question becomes, then, how does a culture encourage in its members something as transcendent as love?

The failure to embrace brotherly love—which quite often coincides with a rejection of God and His grace—has been a perennial concern of the Church. Leo XIII is especially known for his expression in the nineteenth century of these concerns. Since then, every pope and a host of bishops, priests, religious, and lay people have in one way or another underscored the same exhortation to love, respect, and tend to one’s neighbor.

If only the world would listen.

Well, some in the world are doing just that—most especially this morning in Rome when a roomful of noted scientists gathered from around the globe to consider the ecological and economic problems of our age. That their conversations would be opened with—and thus illuminated by—the words of Cardinal Maradiaga (who heads up the Vatican's charitable arm Caritas) is something we should not overlook.

Nor should we ignore that Leo XIII himself can place into perspective this twenty-first century sustainability conference and the cardinal’s opening talk:
For the Church does her utmost to teach and to train men … The instruments which she employs are given to her by Jesus Christ Himself for the very purpose of reaching the hearts of men, and drive their efficiency from God. They alone can reach the innermost heart and conscience, and bring men to act from a motive of duty, to control their passions and appetites, to love God and their fellow men with a love that is outstanding and of the highest degree and to break down courageously every barrier which blocks the way to virtue. (Rerum Novarum, 26)
These words, written in 1891, underscore a pithy statement made this morning by Cardinal Maradiaga: “Nowadays man finds himself to be a technical giant and an ethical child.”

And so the question: what is the solution to this imbalance between our technical and ethical abilities? Cardinal Maradiaga’s answer takes the form of an education that brings us into contact with a certain kind of truths. The problem is, these truths may lead us to where we may not wish to go—to a life of routine temperance and sacrifice. Or, in Christian parlance, to the Cross.

This gets us to a central point of the cardinal’s opening talk to the gathered scientists. To fully engage our ecological crises we must encounter a kind of value system that ultimately transcends the scientific method and economic theories.
In my view, our primary environmental strategy should be environmental education: this is a pressing and ongoing requirement, because through an education on the environment, individuals, societies and states will become aware of the transcendent meaningfulness of the world around us. Education will thus enable us to constructively absorb the skills, the experience, the values and the determination that will prompt us to work to solve both present and future problems in this realm and address them as challenges pertaining to our responsibility for the sustainability of both the environment and mankind. (Emphasis added)
You can find the full text of Cardinal Maradiaga’s opening here. The conference program is here and the vast majority of the conference’s talks and presentations can be found here. And if you haven’t already visited his blog, Dan Misleh of the Catholic Climate Covenant is posting updates from Rome. So is Andrew Revkin of The New York Times. And Brian Roewe at the National Catholic Reporter has also posted on the conference.

So there’s lots of ringside coverage for sure. For my part—when not attending to family needs here at home this weekend—I’ll keep posting from the perspective of a former atheist and environmental regulator who has been writing on the Catholic perspective of ecology for now over ten years. 

As such, you might imagine that I am delighted at what the PontificalAcademy of Science and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences are doing—how they are continuing the thoughts and mission of Leo XIII and his successors so that we today may reverse the often unbridled destruction of so much of God’s life-giving creation.

More tomorrow. For now, may Almighty God bring rich blessings to the conference presenters and to all those listening in and reporting out. May this gathering be very fertile and may its benefits multiply in abundance.

1 comment:

  1. P Edward MurrayMay 3, 2014 at 9:10 AM

    I just hope that the subject of Light Pollution comes up!


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