Concern over the degradation of the environment is the theme of Pope Benedict XVI’s message for World Peace Day, Jan. 1, 2010.
In the document delivered to world leaders by Vatican ambassadors on Dec. 15, the Holy Father states concern for the environment is a pressing moral problem that threatens peace and human life itself.
In a story reported by Catholic News Service, Pope Benedict pointed out that the deterioration of any one part of the planet affects each of us and that each of us has a responsibility in caring for God’s creation.
While the future of the world hangs in the balance because of what people are doing today, the negative effects of pollution and environmental exploitation already can be seen, he said.
"Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions?" the Pope asked.
Already, he said, the world is seeing the "growing phenomenon of 'environmental refugees,' people who are forced by the degradation of their natural habitat" to migrate in search of food, water and unpolluted air.
"Protecting the natural environment in order to build a world of peace is thus a duty incumbent upon each and all. It is an urgent challenge, one to be faced with renewed and concerted commitment; it is also a providential opportunity to hand down to coming generations the prospect of a better future for all," the pope wrote.
Presenting the message to the press, Cardinal Renato Martino, the recently retired president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said Pope Benedict "does not propose technical solutions or interfere in government policies. Rather, he recalls the church's commitment to defending the earth, water and air, which are the creator's gifts to humanity."
"Our present crises -- be they economic, food-related, environmental or social -- are ultimately also moral crises and all of them are interrelated," Pope Benedict wrote.
When the Bible said that God made man and woman in his image and gave them dominion over the earth, the pope said, it meant God called them to be stewards of creation, drawing from the earth what they needed and safeguarding its riches for future generations.
The biblical story of creation makes it clear that human beings hold a special, important place in the order of creation, he said, therefore, it is obvious that protecting creation requires protecting human life and dignity first of all.
"The book of nature is one and indivisible; it includes not only the environment but also individual, family and social ethics. Our duties towards the environment flow from our duties towards the person, considered both individually and in relation to others," he said.
The pope ended his message with a plea to "all believers to raise a fervent prayer to God, the all-powerful creator and the father of mercies, so that all men and women may take to heart the urgent appeal: If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation."