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A White Oak Tree planted at St. Charles Seminary in honor of Pope Francis.

A White Oak Tree planted at St. Charles Seminary in honor of Pope Francis.

White Oak Tree & ‘Care for Our Common Home’

JimSmith/El Hispano

Philadelphia – The Archdioceses of Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles Chaput joined the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), Tuesday, in planting the 500,000th tree at St. Charles Seminary, part and parcel of PHS’s goal of planting one million trees.

   Just four weeks ahead of the much anticipated arrival of Pope Francis to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, Sept. 26 -27, the White Oak tree was also blessed in tribute to the Church’s “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.”  The day is an acknowledgment by this first Latin American Pope of the Church’s commitment to an embattled ecosystem.

   In his recently issued encyclical, “Laudato Si, the Care of Our Common Home,” Pope Francis addressed his concern for the environment, festooning his thinking in the Church’s biblical and theologically-based dedication to an understanding of nature as a reflection of the spiritual world. Pope Francis borrowed from St. Francis of Assisi in referring to mother earth as a sister: “She sustains and governs us and who produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”   

   While the unequivocal language of the encyclical has drawn criticism from corporate executives and conservatives alike, Pope Francis says that the issue has reached a “crisis.” The Argentinian Pope largely attributes the harm inflicted on the environment to our “irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.”

  “We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will,” writes Pope Francis, who repeatedly links the economic and business decisions to the moral and spiritual  realms. “The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.”

Students work  with Philly Rising to clean up city steets.

Students work with Philly Rising to clean up city steets.

  After referring to an old testament ideal, he argues, “we have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth,” and that “our very bodies are made up of her elements,.”

 Drawing a comparison to an earlier nuclear threat, Pope Francis contends the world is teetering on the brink of “global environmental deterioration.”

 While Pope Francis is often deemed a revolutionary figure, his encyclical repeatedly cites his papal predecessors, from Pope Leo XIII to Pope Paul VI and Pope Benedict XVI.

  In warning of an “ecological catastrophe” due to the “explosion of industrial civilization,” Pope Francis noted that Pope Paul VI stressed the “urgent need or a radical change in the conduct of humanity.”

   Pope Paul VI said that the most extraordinary scientific advances, and technical abilities and “most astonishing economic growth, unless accompanied by authentic social and moral progress, will definitely turn against man.”

  From the popular Pope John Paul II he recalled a sharp rebuke to those who “see no other meaning in their natural  environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption.” The Polish pontiff recommended, “safeguarding moral conditions for an authentic human ecology.”

   Pope Francis then recognizes his immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict, who noted that the natural environment has been “gravely damaged by our irresponsible  behavior.”

   A theme that spans across many of Pope Benedict’s reflections, he suggest a singular fault line: “The notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless.”

  “We have forgotten that man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself.  Man does not create himself.  He is spirit and will, but also nature.”

  JS.- Please accept an apology for errors in the print version. As another Pope said, “always regard the writer’s end…If the means be just and the conduct true, applause in spite of trivial faults is due.”