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“Take action now” against Environmental Degradation: South African Archbishop

The Apostolic South Africa's Diocese of Mariannhill and Archbishop Emeritus of Pretoria, William Slattery. Credit: Courtesy Photo

A South African Archbishop has expressed concern over the destruction of the environment and called on the people of God in the country to take urgent action to mitigate the effects of degradation. 

In a pastoral letter published Tuesday, August 24, Archbishop William Slattery cautions against activities that “mistreat our world” and calls for collective efforts from the family level to conserve the environment.

“We must take action now; scientists show us that we are destroying God’s gift,” Archbishop Slattery says, and adds, “It is true that with coronavirus, unemployment and poverty we have many worries, yet we must also see that we humans are destroying the world with which God has gifted us.”

In the letter issued in anticipation of the annual Season of Creation, the Apostolic Administrator of South Africa’s Mariannhill Diocese explains, “Around us we see piles of plastic, waste, toxic chemicals making the environment unsafe. Our cities are overcrowded, noise and vehicles everywhere, unhealthy housing, no green spaces or playgrounds.”

Observed from September 1st to October 4th, the Season of Creation is an ecumenical event dedicated to prayer and action for the protection of creation. This year’s celebration is to be guided by the theme, “A Home for All? Renewing the Oikos of God.”

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In the August 24 pastoral letter, Archbishop Slattery highlights some of the effects of environmental degradation saying, “Every day we hear and see floods, fires, destruction of forests, expansion of deserts, the loss of drinking water, pollution of air.”

The Archbishop who will turn 78 next month continues, “The climate of the world is getting warmer and causing storms, drought, the rise of the level of the oceans which endangers millions.” 

“Millions leave the rural areas to move into violent ghettos. Each year the earth loses many different species of animals and plants, birds and fish which are now gone forever,” says the Archbishop who was at the helm of South Africa’s Pretoria Archdiocese until his retirement in April 2019.

He further notes that the disregard for the environment and other creation has led humanity to treat each other with contempt. 

“So, because we destroy the gifts of God in nature, we now find ourselves treating other people as objects whom we also disrespect,” the Archbishop who has been administering Mariannhill Diocese since his appointment last September says.   

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He explains, “We find in our world today human trafficking, organized crime, drug trade, abuse of women and abandonment of children. We live in a throwaway world and culture.” 

Future generations are at risk of living “in misery” if appropriate action is not taken to remedy the situation, Archbishop Slattery cautions, and adds, “If we continue to mistreat our world as we are now doing, it too will die and future generations will live in misery.”

As a way forward, the Catholic Church leader calls on all people “to do our little part” in  reclaiming the environment. 

“Pope Francis gives examples. We can begin by praying and reflecting. We can ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of gratitude and appreciation,” the member of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM) says. 

He adds that families and individuals can participate in conserving the environment by avoiding “the use of plastic and paper, reduce water consumption, reduce waste, cook only that which we wish to consume, show care for living things, use public transport, plant trees, turn off unnecessary lights and such things.”

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“Doing this in gratitude for God's gifts will make us generous people, people with a soul and with appreciation that we are children of God,” the native of Ireland says.

In the pastoral letter, Archbishop Slattery announces that members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) have made September 15 Creation Day, a day of reflection and prayer. 

“During September, the Season of Creation, we will pray and respect creation,” he says, and notes that “for nine days leading up to October 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, we will observe a private or public novena.”