Ask Alice about Catholicism
Is environmentalism “Catholic” or a political football?

In the current political climate, every serious issue is a blood sport aimed at reelection. But it’s also true that Catholicism has now gone officially green. Pope Benedict XVI entitled his first address of 2010 If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation. That was a spin on Pope Paul VI’s signature phrase, “If you want peace, work for justice.” When you compare the two statements, you realize the pope has elevated stewardship of the planet to a work of justice!

That makes sense. Global warming, or climate change, or whatever you want to call it, has affected and will continue to harm the poor more than the rich; natural disasters and man-made ones generally do. While million-dollar homes are occasionally lost to floods and fires (think coastal California), the vast majority of the ones affected by the earth’s volatile forces are those who can’t easily restore what’s lost (witness Haiti, crushed first by an earthquake and then by cholera, or the Gulf Coast, ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and then by a very preventable oil spill).

What the pope is saying is simple. If we treat creation as God’s gift and employ nature without greedily exploiting it, our stewardship will not only earn us our survival but also a global reality that’s sustainable in peace. If, however, we take what we can get from this planet and refuse to recognize the fragile ecosystem shared by soil, water, air, and life—including our own—then those on the short end of the benefit scale will rebel, and no one will have peace.

“The environment must be seen as God’s gift to all people, and the use we make of it entails a shared responsibility for all humanity, especially the poor and future generations,” the pope says. That widens our responsibility: not simply to our fellow inhabitants but to those who will inherit the earth from us. Will we offer them desertification, the pollution of rivers, the loss of biodiversity, deforestation, and other perils the pope lists?

The threat to our world is not simply an ecological but a moral crisis, says the pope. If we disregard the growing number of “environmental refugees,” we will mostly certainly reap the impact of their instability and displacement. We embrace a future of conflict if we ignore “the human right to life, food, health, and development.” For these reasons green remains a year-round color for Catholics.

• Genesis 1:28; 2:15; 3:17-19; Psalm 8:4-10; Proverbs 8:22-36; Isaiah 11:6-9; Romans 8:22-23; Colossians 1:15-17

• If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation, message of Pope Benedict XVI for the celebration of the World Day of Peace, January 1, 2010


God, Grace, & Creation, edited by Philip J. Rossi (Orbis Books, 2009)
Women Healing Earth, edited by Rosemary Radford Ruether (Orbis Books, 1996)

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Alice L. Camille
Alice Camille is a gem among contemporary writers on scripture and Catholic teaching. She has received numerous awards for her books, columns, and exegetical reflections. She received her Master of Divinity degree from the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, where she also served as adjunct faculty in ministry formation, preaching and proclamation. Alice is an author, religious educator, and parish retreat leader. Learn more at

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