FOR millions of Christians around the world, a month-long season of prayer culminates this weekend with the feast day of St Francis of Assisi.
The idea of celebrating September 1 as a day of prayer for creation began in 1989 at the wish of the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios, a leading figure in the Eastern Orthodox church whose successor Bartholomew I is also seen as something of a “green” source of spiritual inspiration.
In 2013 Pope Francis – formerly Jorge Mario Bergoglio – chose his papal name in honour of St Francis, reflecting both men’s concern for the world’s poor, as well as the future of the planet.
The Pope subsequently urged the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and all people of good will to take urgent action against the injustice of climate change and the ecological crisis, to protect the poor and future generations.
The Season of Creation has become an annual celebration uniting Christians in prayer and action for the protection of the earth, with many viewing this year’s event as being of particular significance in light of the coronavirus pandemic and global climate concerns.
In July a cross-section of faith leaders urged the UK government to develop a new shared vision for the future ahead of the UN climate change conference in Glasgow next year, when the UK has the COP26 presidency.
The faith leaders spoke of the need to “restore balance in the very systems of life, affirming the need for equality, justice and sustainability” in the sharing of the earth’s resources.
They pointed out how, amid the fear and the grief for loved ones lost, many had found consolation in the dramatic reduction of pollution and the restoration of nature.
“Renewed delight in and contact with the natural world has the capacity to reduce our mental stress and nourish us spiritually,” they wrote. “We have rediscovered our sense of how interconnected the world is. The very health and future of humanity depends on our ability to act together not only with respect to pandemics but also in protecting our global ecosystem.”
On the plus side, less travel and consumption and more kindness and neighbourliness have helped us appreciate what society can really mean, they pointed out. But in times of crisis injustice becomes more obvious, and it is the poor and vulnerable who suffer most, as the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development stresses in its climate campaign.
“All this shows us how precarious our previous ‘business as usual’ was, socially, economically, ecologically and spiritually,” the faith leaders wrote.
“Our faiths teach us that our planet, with its rich resources and inspiring diversity, is lent to us on trust only and we are accountable for how we treat it. We are urgently and inescapably responsible, not just before God but to our own children and the very future of humanity.”
The Season of Creation ends on October 4, the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, but the call to action looks beyond the annual event and focuses on protecting biodiversity, reducing the risk of catastrophic climate change and pushing sustainability to the forefront of government decision-making.
Pope Francis phrased it as the need to “listen to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor”, a message that resonates across the centuries from when Saint Francis chose to take the Gospel literally and lead a life of poverty in the name of the Lord.
“If God can work through me, he can work through anyone,” the saint said, yet on Sunday, almost 800 years after his death, his message about our intimate connection with God’s creation sounds more relevant and important than ever.