ADDRESS OF CARDINAL PIETRO
PAROLIN, SECRETARY OF STATE,
TO THE PARTICIPANTS IN THE HIGH-LEVEL CONFERENCE ON
“PEOPLE AND PLANET FIRST: THE IMPERATIVE TO CHANGE COURSE”
(2-3 JULY 2015)
Thursday, 2 July 2015
Dear Prime Minister,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the organizers
of this Conference, dedicated to identifying a way to channel our efforts to
examine and make known the wealth of content offered in
Laudato Si’, Pope
Francis’s Encyclical on the care of our common home. The Encyclical itself,
as the Pontiff tells us, is addressed “to every person living on this
planet... [inviting them] to enter into dialogue with all people about our
common home” (3).
This afternoon’s session is significant: “The Importance of the
Encyclical Laudato Si’ for the Church and the World, in the Light of Major
Political Events in 2015 and Beyond”. Many points can be raised in this
perspective, above all because, as the Holy Father reminds us, “Young people
[are demanding] change” (13), and this change can only highlight the
“immensity and urgency of the challenge we face” (15).
We are all well aware that in the second half of 2015 three important
United Nations conferences will take place:
1.first, the “Third International Conference on Financing for
Development”, coming up shortly in Addis Ababa from the 13th to the 16th
2.second, the “United Nations Summit to Adopt the Post-2015
Development Agenda”, scheduled to take place in New York from the 25th
to the 27th September; and
3.third, the “Twenty-First Session of the Conference of the Parties
to the United Nations framework Convention on Climate Change” (“COP21”),
due to take place in Paris from the 30th November to the 11th December,
for the purpose of adopting a new agreement on climate change.
The Encyclical will have a certain impact on these events, but its
breadth and depth go well beyond its context in time.
In this regard, and in keeping with the title of today’s session, I wish
to focus on three areas which help to understand the Encyclical itself: (1)
the international sphere, (2) the national and local sphere, and (3) the
sphere of the Catholic Church. As its point of departure my reflection on
these three areas has two pressing requirements identified in the
Encyclical, namely, “redirecting our steps” (61) and promoting a “culture of
care” (231). The “culture of care” recalls, to some extent, the
responsibility of custodianship that is being developed through the United
Nations, albeit not exclusively.
Let us begin with the first of these spheres: the international
framework. This calls for an ever greater recognition that “everything
is connected” (138) and that the environment, the earth and the climate are
“a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone” (93).
They are a common and collective good, belonging to all and meant for all,
the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone (23; 95).
Recognizing these truths is not, however, a foregone conclusion. It calls
for a firm commitment to develop an authentic ethics of international
relations, one that is genuinely capable of facing up to a variety of
issues, such as commercial imbalances, and foreign and ecological debt,
which are denounced in the Encyclical. Nevertheless, the principal challenge
that faces us, and to which our commitment is directed, is that of “needing
to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are
no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide,
still less is there room for the globalization of indifference” (52).
None of this is obvious. However, as Teilhard de Chardin had already
understood as far back as nineteen fifty-five, it can be observed that the
human being, or at least a certain part of the human family, is becoming
ever more aware, and capable of understanding that, “in the great game that
is being played, we are the players as well as being the cards and the
stakes”. Such an increased consciousness brings with it a change in
perspective, a “redirecting of our steps”, inspired by a “more integral and
integrating vision” (141). This can be summarized by welcoming and promoting
the paradigm of integral ecology so clearly outlined in Laudato Si’. That is
a model dedicated to consciously responding both to “the cry of the earth
and the cry of the poor” (49), as well as to refuting the culture of
individualism that leads to “an ethical and cultural decline which has
accompanied the deterioration of the environment” (162). This individualism
is incapable of recognizing the relationship with others: what Lévinas calls
“the face of the Other”, and he reminds us that “the subject is responsible
for the responsibility of the other person”.
Unfortunately, what has prevented the international community from
assuming this perspective can be summed up in the following observations of
the Pope: its “failure of conscience and responsibility” (169) and the
consequent “meagre awareness of its own limitations” (105). We live,
however, in a context where it is possible to “leave behind the modern myth
of unlimited material progress... [and] to devise intelligent ways of
directing, developing and limiting our power” (78); “we have the freedom
needed to limit and direct technology; we can put it at the service of
another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social,
more integral” (112). More than once I have had occasion to emphasize how
the technological and operative base for promoting such progress is already
available or within our reach. We must seize this great opportunity, given
the real human capacity to initiate and forge ahead on a genuinely and
properly virtuous course, one that irrigates the soil of economic and
technological innovation, cultivating three interrelated objectives: (1) to
help human dignity flourish; (2) to help eradicate poverty; and (3) to help
counter environmental decay.
This virtuous course, dedicated to “redirecting our steps”, can only
raise the profile of “the major paths of dialogue which can help us escape
the spiral of self-destruction which currently engulfs us” (163), and
overcome that “tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures”
(68), which has allowed the culture of relativism and waste to catch on and
be propagated in our society. We need paths of dialogue which can help us
create space so that our home is truly held in common.
The forces at work in the international sphere are not sufficient on
their own, however, but must also be focused by a clear national stimulus,
according to the principle of subsidiarity. And here we enter into the
second area of our reflection, that of national and local action. Laudato
Si’ shows us that we can do much in this regard, and it offers some
examples, such as: “modifying consumption, developing an economy of waste
disposal and recycling... [the improvement of] agriculture in poorer
regions... through investment in rural infrastructures, a better
organization of local [and] national markets, systems of irrigation, and the
development of techniques of sustainable agriculture” (180), the promotion
of a “circular model of production” (22), a clear response to the wasting of
food (cf.50), and the acceleration of an “energy transition” (165).
We are concerned with complex, but far-sighted changes, which go well
beyond the political and economic short-sightedness that typifies the
culture of relativism and waste. This conceals a rejection of ethics and
often of God as well. “True statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times,
we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good. Political
powers do not find it easy to assume this duty in the work of
nation-building” (178). Again we hear Pope Francis’s plea: “Let us refuse to
resign ourselves to this, and [let us] continue to wonder about the purpose
and meaning of everything” (113).
Unfortunately, “there are too many special interests, and
economic interests [too] easily end up trumping the common good and
manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected” (54). This is
where the process of increasing awareness among organizations in civil
society comes in (cf. 166). Notable among these associations are ones
inspired by the Catholic spirit, having as their guiding light the heritage
of the social teaching of the Church, of which Laudato Si’ also forms part (cf.
15). This social doctrine has as its basic point of reference the dignity of
the human person and the promoting and sharing of the common good.
Let us now pass to the third and last area: the Catholic Church. She
finds nourishment in the example of Saint Francis who, as indicated from the
very opening pages of the Encyclical, “lived in simplicity and in wonderful
harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us
just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the
poor, commitment to society, and interior peace” (10).
Pope Francis states once again that “the Church does not presume to
settle scientific questions or to replace politics” (188), but seems to be
the bearer of the need to “question... the meaning and purpose of all human
activity” (125). What is well-known by now is the Encyclical’s call for us
to reflect on “what kind of world we want to leave to those who come after
us, to children who are now growing up” (160). The answer which the Pope
offers to this question is quite revealing: “When we ask ourselves what kind
of world we want to leave behind, we think in the first place of its general
direction, its meaning and its values... It is no longer enough, then,
simply to state that we should be concerned for future generations. We need
to see that what is at stake is our own dignity” (160).
These are words which remind us once again of our responsibility, to be
“responsible for the responsibility of the other”. Furthermore, “our
vocation to be protectors... is not [something] optional” (217). And this
requires the formation of consciences and the preparation of the necessary
“leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of
the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming
The final chapter of Laudato Si’ is dedicated to education, on the basis
of the fact that “many things have to change course, but it is we human
beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common
origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone.
This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions,
attitudes and forms of life. And thus emerges a great cultural, spiritual
and educational challenge” (202), the “culture of care” capable of restoring
“the various levels of ecological equilibrium, establishing harmony within
ourselves, with others, with nature and other living creatures, and with God”
These, then, are some clear points that can serve as guidelines for the
Church and the World, in the care of our common home, in 2015 and beyond.
 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1955), The Phenomenon of Man, 230...;
original in French: Le Phénomène Humain...
 Emmanuel Lévinas (1971)... Totality and Infinity: Essay on
Exteriority, .... ; original in French: Totalité et Infini: Essai sur l’Extériorité.