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Care for creation

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This year marks the fifth “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” Sept. 1. For Catholics, the day has its roots in Pentecost Sunday in 2015, when Pope Francis promulgated the Encyclical Letter on Care for our Common Home, “Laudato Si’ ”. It is no coincidence that the letter was given on the day that we proclaim in the entrance antiphon, “The Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole world” (Wis 1:7), and we implore in the responsorial psalm, “Lord, send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104). Thus, we are reminded, “the Spirit of life dwells in every living creature and calls us to enter into relationship with him,” leading us to cultivate ecological virtues while yearning for that fullness of God that is yet to come (“Laudato Si’,” no. 88).

Several months after publishing “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis wrote to Cardinal Peter Turkson of the pontifical council for justice and peace and Cardinal Koch of the pontifical council for the promotion of Christian unity to institute in the Catholic Church the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.” In doing so, the Holy Father emphasized that care for creation is an issue of justice and peace that must be approached through prayer, reflection, conversion and virtuous living. Moreover, care for creation is a concern shared by all Christian believers who participate in the vocation “to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live.” Each of us are invited to reaffirm this call every September.

Pope Francis chose Sept. 1 for the day of prayer to coincide with the custom of the Orthodox Church. This year, the Orthodox Church marks three decades as a Christian leader in contemporary environmental issues. In 1989, Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios established a “World Day of Prayer for the Protection of the Environment” Sept. 1, the same date the Orthodox liturgical year begins. Each year since, Patriarch Dimitrios and his successor, Patriarch Bartholomew, have led this day through a special service of evening prayer and through letters addressing human responsibility for creation.

A few months after Patriarch Dimitrios established a day of prayer, Pope John Paul II focused his 1990 World Day of Peace Message on peace with God the Creator, peace with all of creation. Also in 1990, the World Council of Churches (a body of Protestant communities) convened for a world convention on justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Twenty years later, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his 2010 World Day of Peace Message, promoted the Catholic vision for ecological virtues with a message entitled, “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation.” These, again, underscore what Christian communities have promoted for decades and what Pope Francis strongly asserts in his writings and actions — that care for creation is about peace and justice. 

Since Sept. 1, 2015, Pope Francis has celebrated the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation with short messages and, above all, prayer. The liturgies prayed have faithfully proclaimed the greatness of God the Creator, whose glory is revealed through creation. At the same time, these liturgies have challenged us and transformed us to cooperate with God in sanctifying and renewing our common home. The day of prayer is about nothing less than God’s peace and justice.

This year, Sept. 1 falls on Sunday, so many of our parishes will celebrate through specially selected prayers for Sunday Mass. In Mass this Sunday, as in every liturgy, our ritual words and actions will be made true, real, and authentic through the power of the Spirit, who renews the face of the earth. What we will encounter is the earth crying out, for we have sinned. So we will examine ourselves, repent and believe, raise up creation in thanksgiving, and set out renewed according to God’s plan: to show mercy to our common home and so proclaim with our lives, “Blessed are you, Lord God of all Creation,” and “Praise be to you!”

Starke is director of diocesan Office of Divine Worship.


Find out more

World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation is Sept. 1. Check with your parish for activities and liturgy. 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019