CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/31 March) — It is not yet too late to listen to the prophetic voices of the ecological scientists and environmental advocates. We can no longer afford to ignore them after experiencing the typhoon Sendong tragedy, which violently claimed more than a thousand Mindanawons and excessively damaged around 1.7 billion pesos to infrastructure and agriculture—in Region X alone. In fact, until now, the survivors are still deeply traumatized by the bad memories of this devastating flashflood that forcefully swept the lives of our loved ones—including their houses, properties, and livelihoods. For them, this nightmare of ecological tragedy is just too much as a reminder of our gross negligence of nature—our ecological sins.
Deeply disturbed by this tragedy, a good number of Mindanao bishops and priests gathered together in Cagayan de Oro City on February 13-15, 2012 to prayerfully reflect on the theme: “Typhoon Sendong and Its Challenges for Mindanao.” Let us call to mind that, as early as 1980s, the local church of Mindanao had opted to embrace its peoples’ ecological struggles which significantly erupted in the dioceses of Malaybalay, Zamboanga, South Cotabato, and Pagadian. Thanks to the pioneering advocacies of the Columban and Redemptorist missionaries in Mindanao, the Philippine church had rightly recognized the escalating ecological struggles of the grassroots as urgent signs of the time.
The church’s commitment to embrace the growing ecological struggle is crucially important today. The church, however, has to humbly recognize its limitations in terms of addressing the ecological issues (e.g., climate change, energy crisis, watershed protection, environmental effects of mining, etc.) as they are generally regarded as non-religious in nature. In fact, most of these issues largely belong to the domain of ecology and have particular discourses of their own. Some conservative voices may narrowly classify them as outside the domain of the ecclesial magisterium and the “official” pastoral activities of the church. Nevertheless, it must be asserted that the church cannot simply remain neutral or silent on the pressing ecological issues.
Aware of this caveat, how can the church make a sound theological and moral judgment on ecological issues? The church cannot simply ignore the people’s ecological struggles on the pretext that these are explicitly secular concerns. After realizing that Mindanao is not a typhoon-free island, there is a growing fear among Mindanawons that the violent flashfloods in the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro may likely happen again if we keep on ignoring the prophetic voices of the ecological advocates. What confluence of factors that might have contributed to this tragedy? What made the situation as such? More importantly, how can we correct the erroneous practices that produced the ecological tragedies? Obviously, these urgent questions are beyond the particular competence of the Church magisterium to answer.
In their celebrated pastoral letter on ecology in 1988, the Filipino Catholic bishops rightly admitted that ecological scientists “are in a good position to tell us … since they study the web of dynamic relationship which supports and sustains all life within the earthly household.” They recognize the need to “stand on the shoulder” of the experts (e.g., Eugene Odum, James Lovelock, Thomas Berry, etc.) whose valuable ecological insights could critically shape the church’s prophetic mission and creatively enrich the human vocation to serve as responsible steward of creation. In this posture, to listen critically to the scientific voices of ecologists is crucial to our attempt to do theology in the situation of the ecological crisis.
According to the prevailing ecological analysis, many of the ecological tragedies today could not purely be attributed to the natural consequences of an evolutionary world, as they are also partly anthropogenic and human-induced ecological calamities. Arguably, human beings bear the huge burden of guilt for their negligence of the ecological fact that the Earth’s material and energy resources are naturally finite and fragile. Consequently, we no longer enjoy today the usual ecosystem services of nature. In the face of climate change, we are highly vulnerable to various forms of natural disasters. Thanks to the series of ecological disasters, we are painfully reminded that everything is intricately related to everything else.
From a Christian perspective, the foregoing ecological analysis has strengthened the theological view that environmental calamities are contrary to the will of God for creation. As the Filipino Catholic bishops have rightly declared, the “assault on creation is sinful and contrary to the teachings of our faith.” Arguably, human beings’ obsession with the modern economic development has produced many of today’s tragic events. The natural world has been severely damaged by the sinful human decisions against God and creation. Aware of our irresponsible stewardship, Pope John Paul II claimed that many of our ecological sufferings today are effects of human sin “which has inevitable repercussions on the rest of the created order.” The ecological sins of the irresponsible stewards have worsened the groaning of the poor and the earth together. In light of our prophetic action for ecological justice, we demand for the proper restitution of damages we have done to nature as part of our authentic process of reconciliation with creation and as a sign of our sincere response to “ecological conversion.”
In our attempt to implement the requirements of ecological justice, we have to recognize the crucial role of ecologists as competent guides for facilitating the restitution of the man-made damages to nature. The church, with its particular competence in matters of faith and morals, does not pretend to offer specific technical solutions to the ecological crisis. To offer the appropriate mitigating and adaptation measures vis-à-vis the global climate change phenomena rightfully belongs to the expertise of ecology—including both scientific and indigenous approaches. The church’s option to struggle for ecology is grounded in the hope that many of the ecological damages “can still be halted” if we take seriously our common responsibility. The church embraces this struggle with the strong conviction that technical solutions are not enough to solve the complex ecological problems. The church considers the ecological crisis as “a moral issue” that must be addressed together with a more general moral crisis. [MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Reynaldo D. Raluto is a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Malaybalay. He holds a doctor’s degree in theology from the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium). He is currently assigned as a teacher of systematic theology in the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Cagayan de Oro City]