My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Last week people around the world celebrated Earth Day. Established in 1970, Earth Day is celebrated every year on April 22. It is a day to demonstrate support for environmental protection. More than 193 countries are part of the Earth Day Network and hold coordinated events to raise awareness about respecting and protecting the earth. This is a good time to reflect on what we are called to do as Catholics to care for the earth.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, described human destruction of the environment as a sin. He has called for urgent action to stop climate change and proposed that caring for the environment be added to traditional Christian works of mercy such as feeding the hungry and visiting the sick. Pope Francis tells us, “Climate change is also contributing to the heart-rending refugee crisis. The world’s poor, though least responsible for climate change, are most vulnerable and already suffering its impact.”
Some scientists say climate change is leading to more severe droughts, floods, fires, hurricanes, and other severe weather events. Unfortunately, I have witnessed first-hand more times that I want to remember the devastation caused by natural disasters. Any disaster, natural or man-made, is difficult to accept. Here in our own diocese, we all remember the devastation Super Storm Sandy wrought on our own city. In Brooklyn and Queens, and in our surrounding area, the magnitude of the destruction of Super Storm Sandy will be with us for a long time to come.
At that time, the aftermath of Sandy brought many memories to mind of similar situations of the past – the earthquake in Haiti, as well as my personal involvement in the Italian earthquakes of the Irpinia region in Southern Italy in 1980 and in L’Aquila in 2009.
Last year, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, I traveled with Cardinal Timothy Dolan to deliver money raised by the faithful of Brooklyn and Queens as well as the Archdiocese of New York for our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico. The storm brought 155 m.p.h. winds to Puerto Rico and dropped five-to-seven inches of rain per hour. It knocked down 80 percent of electricity infrastructure creating the largest blackout in U.S. history for Puerto Rico’s 3.3 million residents.
Recycling, energy conservation, and water conservation may well help to conserve the resources of the earth. Every effort we can make, even the smallest, matters. Take the time to recycle plastic, paper, and other materials and encourage others to do the same.
We can also support laws that protect the environment and put pressure on our elected officials to take climate change seriously. Currently, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is removing a number of regulations created to protect the environment and last year, a worldwide agreement to reduce carbon emissions was abandoned by the United States. Catholic leaders across the country are taking a stand against these recent changes by signing the U.S Catholic Climate Declaration. The petition calls on the Trump Administration “to join the global community and return to the Paris Agreement.”
Is our government putting profit before its global responsibility to protect the earth? Should we make the environment more of an important issue when voting for our elected officials? Catholics sometimes vote based on their pro-life beliefs, as well as other issues like health care and immigration. Are we giving enough attention to a candidate’s stance on the environment?
The annual celebration of Earth Day is like putting out into the deep remembering that we are stewards of the earth that God has created, as we hear in the book of Numbers, “You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the Lord am dwelling in the midst of the sons of Israel.” (Numbers 35:34)
St. John Paul constantly told us that man is the only creature God created for Himself, and that the earth is in our custody.