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The centrality of the human person

An effective motto for a message to be read with attention; the invitation to safeguard creation in order to cultivate peace is not in fact the umpteenth appeal in an ecological key. Rather, it is a new reflection, in continuity with the Christian tradition, that revolves around a very clear concept: the centrality of man, that is, human beings (male and female), created by God in his image. In the environmental question egocentrism and bicentrism should therefore be rejected as visions that aim at absolutizing the environment itself or animal and plant life, that consequently open the way to “a new pantheism tinged with neo-paganism”, as the Document explicitly states.

Instead, at the heart of the text that Benedict XVI is offering for the upcoming World Day of Peace is the Message of the biblical account of the world's origins, with the mandate to till and to keep the earth. This task is entrusted to that creature, man, whose centrality shines out in the sacred Jewish and Christian texts in spite of original sin, summed up as early as the second century in the words of Irenaeus, dear to Paul VI, who identified the glory of God – that is, his presence – in living man ( gloria Dei vivens homo ). Indeed, “what is man that you are mindful of him”, the Psalmist asks God, filled with wonder.

In the Pope's Message, next to the human being, the theme of responsibility for Creation recurs insistently as a leitmotif .  In continuity with the teaching of his Predecessors – in particular of Paul VI, in Populorum Progressio and Octogesima Adveniens, and of John Paul II – Benedict is realistically aware that the heedless exploitation of nature risks sweeping man himself away, the victim of this “degradation”.

And the analysis in the face of the crisis, as in Caritas in Veritate, is once again realistic when he refers to “environmental refugees”, the pursuit by many of myopic and political economic interests, but also to the opportunity that the crisis itself offers to change without indulging in catastrophism, unproven and in any case sterile. Here then, the evocation of the theme of the safeguard of Creation very realisticly invites people to consider the cost entailed “environmentally and socially”, that, the Message states, must be evaluated as “an essential part of the overall expenses incurred”.

Then, lastly and above all, there is the theme of responsibility for the poorest people and for the generations to come, with the exhortation to adopt new lifestyles; because creation, illumined by Christ, is a gift of God for the whole human family.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 18, 2019

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