Saints and martyrs for creation
The launching and opening of the Season of Creation on Sept. 1 goes in tandem with Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si,” his recent encyclical on the environment or “On Care for Our Common Home.” Laudato si is Latin for “praise be to you,” the first line of the canticle of praise for God and creation written by St. Francis of Assisi, the Pope’s namesake.
On immediate recall are some saints and martyrs for the environment, foremost of them being St. Francis (1181-1226) himself. His love for creation and the poor has made him very popular so that his image has become a common presence in gardens and wildlife sanctuaries. His spiritual life and teachings were closely linked with his surroundings, which is not only made up of human beings but of other living beings as well and the landscape—the ground, the sea, the mountains, the rivers, the sky—where they thrive.
At that period of history when man-made structures vied for praise and recognition, Francis and his band of brothers chose the green outdoors as their cathedral, the winged and four-legged creatures of the wild their companions even while they sought out fellow humans who needed their comfort and care. They served in the simplest way possible.
But before Francis there was Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), a Benedictine abbess, preacher, writer, musician, mystic, scholar, scientist, environmentalist, healer. She was also a communicator of wisdom and knowledge. She was later canonized as a saint of the Catholic Church.
With the rise of the women’s movement and with heightened environmental consciousness in the churches, Hildegard is back to her future, so to speak. Her written works and music are being studied. For almost 800 years Hildegard was virtually unknown but in the 1980s interest in her began to grow.
Hildegard coined the word “viriditas.” She was the first to view the universe as a cosmic egg. She offered a scintillating insight into the cosmos and its symphonic beauty. In reading her “Illuminations” one gets a glimpse of Hildegard’s “greening power.”
God speaking through her. “I am the breeze that nurtures all things green./I encourage blossoms to flourish with ripening fruits./ I am the rain coming from the dew/ that causes the grasses to laugh/ with the joy of life.”
Hildegard was eight centuries ahead of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who had been described as “a figurehead in the unfolding of a new cycle in the life of mankind” and “the undeclared patron saint of Catholic ecology.” Though not a canonized saint, this saintly Jesuit priest, paleontologist and writer was, for some time, questioned for his views about the universe. That was before environmental theology. In 2009, more than half a century after Teilhard’s death in 1955, Pope Benedict XVI praised him for his vision of the cosmos as a “living host.”
As far as martyrdom is concerned, Sr. Dorothy Stang comes fast into my mind’s viewing screen. This American Catholic nun took in bullets because she sided with the indigenous Amazon dwellers who opposed commercial intrusion into their ancestral domain.
Here at home, we have a good number, some known only to their small communities. Others became nationally known, thanks to like-minded advocates who continued their struggle, and the media, of course.
There is Dr. Gerry Ortega, the crusading environmentalist and radioman in Palawan who was gunned down in 2011 because he campaigned against mining firms and corruption in government.
Now written into Cordilleran history is Macli-ing Dulag, the Kalinga brave and defender of the Cordillera who opposed the building of the Chico dam that would have ruined large portions of the Kalingas’ ancestral domain and cultural heritage. (My book on him is available at the University of the Philippines Press bookstores.)
Not many know Elpidio de la Victoria whose campaign against illegal fishing in the Visayan Sea cost him his life.
Meanwhile, here on the Philippine side of Planet Earth, among the living, the advocacy for the care of creation continues.
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle presided last Tuesday at the opening of the Season of Creation and the observance of the day of prayer for the care of creation at the Manila Cathedral. He called the season the season of ecological conversion.
The cardinal emphasized stewardship and proposed acts simple enough to follow, such as curbing the throw-away attitude. This attitude, he said, is driven by materialism that results in mountains of garbage. This, he reminded us, leads to throwing away people and even principles as garbage. He proposed a “save mentality” instead—saving electricity, water, the environment.
The Ecological Justice Interfaith Movement (Ecojim) is pushing for science-based discourse and faith-based responses to the environmental crisis. In its recent statement Ecojim stressed that the global crisis “is as much a spiritual crisis as it is an environmental and political crisis. As an inter-faith movement, it is only fair and just that we humbly recognize and acknowledge the faults and failures that we have committed to the environment as well. It is by beginning with genuine repentance and desire for change that we will be able to achieve authentic ecological conversion…”
Mea culpa, everyone.
The Climate Reality Project, a global movement founded by Nobel laureate and former US Vice President Al Gore, has launched a Philippine-wide climate caravan to raise awareness on the importance of collective action to address climate change and gather grassroots support to encourage world leaders to come up with a strong climate agreement in Paris during the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) come December.
Send feedback to [email protected] or www.ceresdoyo.com
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.