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Environmental crisis hits poor hardest, Australia’s bishops warn

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Bishop Terry Brady leads prayers for the homeless at a gathering in Elizabeth Bay in late June. Welcoming the Australian Bishops’ annual social justice statement on 5 August, Bishop Brady – a member of the ACBC Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service – said care of the poor and care of the environment go hand in hand.  Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Australians cannot afford to neglect the wider ecological crisis threatening the world’s poor, The country’s Catholic bishops have urged.

In their annual social justice statement released on 5 August, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference commit to a seven-year journey towards seven Laudato Si’ goals.

The statement titled ‘Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor’ was launched by Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, chair of the Bishops Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service.

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People from the Mura tribe are pictured in a file photo at a deforested area in unmarked Indigenous lands inside the Amazon rainforest near Humaita, Brazil. Bishops working in the Amazon are opposing a bill they say threatens Brazil’s rainforest by allowing illegally deforested federal lands to become private holdings. Photo: CNS, Ueslei Marcelino, Reuters

Global church needs to act

“We are facing an ecological crisis and Pope Francis wants the whole Church globally to act with a greater sense of urgency,” said Bishop Long.

The statement explains that the Laudato Si’ Goals aim to put Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home into practice.

It urges families, schools, parishes, dioceses and organisations to join the bishops in signing up to the Laudato Si’ Action Platform.

Solar panels are seen on the roof of the Paul VI audience hall at the Vatican in this 2010, file photo. Under Pope Benedict XVI, Vatican City began installing solar panels in 2008. Phgoto: CNS, Paul Haring

A Gospel-based statement

The platform, an initiative of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, will gather ideas for action from around the globe.

Bishop Terence Brady, a member of the Bishop’s Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service, told The Catholic Weekly that the statement, like Laudato Si’, is grounded in the Gospels.

“Care of the poor and care of the environment go hand-in-hand,” he said. “It’s at the heart of the Gospel message and brings us back to the basis of our faith. Pope Francis expressed it all beautifully in Laudato Si’, and you can see the influence of his Jesuit spirituality and St Francis of Assisi’s love of all God’s creation in that document.”

Pope Francis emphasised protection for the environment and the need to mitigate climate change in his second encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” released in June, 2013. In this file photo, a woman holds a fish caught by her husband off South Tarawa in the central Pacific island nation of Kiribati. Photo: CNS, David Gray, Reuters

Bishop urges Catholics to familiarise themselves with statement

As its message was so universal and Gospel-centred, the Bishop said he hoped it would be read and shared widely, despite the current COVID-19 outbreaks claiming much of the attention of Australians at present.

“It energised me and I hope and pray it will energise Australian Catholics and communities as well,” he said.

The goals include improving the use of renewable energy and fossil fuels, promoting biodiversity, defending all human life from conception to death, adopting simple lifestyles, and recovering a religious vision of God’s creation.

Follow example of first Australians

Bishop Long pointed out that “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been caring for country from time immemorial”.

“The rest of us need to listen, and to learn how we can walk together to care for the whole of creation – including one another.”

The Bishops Conference’s Office for Social Justice, which Bishop Long announced has been renamed the Office for Justice, Ecology and Peace, has been involved in developing the Laudato Si’ Action Platform.

“The rest of us need to listen, and to learn how we can walk together to care for the whole of creation – including one another.”

Speaking during the statement’s online launch, Bishop Long said that he hoped it would encourage “ever deeper and more effective Christian responses to the urgent cries of the earth and of the poor”.

He acknowledged that individuals, religious institutes, schools and organisations have already been working on ecological issues for a long time.

“I want to affirm and thank them all, and to urge the whole Catholic community to join them,” he said.

Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor and associated resources can be downloaded at www.socialjustice.catholic.org.au

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