Last week’s post highlighted the seven key themes of the Church’s social teaching. Care for the environment is part of the “care for God’s creation” theme. Environmental ecumenism is not particularly new in the Church. Various ecumenical gatherings have focused on ecological and environmental themes, such as fighting climate change, reducing waste, and protecting the earth. Church leaders of different denominations have also spoken and written on these. In fact, Laudato Si, the encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home”, dedicated three paragraphs to quotes from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew (Laudato Si, 7-9).
In his 10 February 2022 congratulatory message to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of this election, Pope Francis said:
“I am deeply grateful for the Ecumenical Patriarch’s commitment to the protection of creation and for his reflections on the matter, from which I have learned, and continue to learn, a great deal. With the outbreak of the pandemic and the spread of its dramatic healthcare, social and economic consequences, his witness and his teaching on the necessary spiritual conversion of humanity have gained further relevance”.
Promoting the protection of the environment is one of the hallmarks of Pope Francis’ pontificate. In his Laudato Si, Pope Francis affirms that “exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths” (Laudato Si, 20). He writes, “the earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish” (Laudato Si, 21).
Let’s consider a typical Nigerian city and its waste management and cleanliness. Apart from the bad roads, which are sometimes water-logged, what again do we see? We see streets filled with filth and dotted with refuse dumps, blocked gutters, unhygienic markets, polluted streams and rivers, soot from generators, cars, and in some cities, gas flaring and illegal oil refining. The polluted environment is a major cause of sickness and premature deaths in Nigeria.
Why is it important to us?
They visit our hospitals, and many come for only spiritual healing. They attribute some of their sicknesses to the devil’s machinations, which are false. How would one live beside a refuse dump or in a city polluted with soot and not suffer from a respiratory disease? How would one drink water from a polluted stream or river without developing waterborne diseases? In clear terms, this is not a prayer issue but an organisational one.
Part of our mission as Church leaders in Nigeria is enlightenment, and we can reach out to most Nigerians. How and where? We control the pulpit. Preaching about it in a single church will not be sufficient. Pope Francis continues in Laudato Si,
“Today, however, we have to realise that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”. (49) “Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society”. (91).
The elections have given us a template. Let’s imagine a situation. The Churches (and mosques) in a town begin a campaign against littering the streets. Each Church (mosque) talks about it every Sunday (Friday), admonishing the people on the need to avoid littering the streets. Working as a bloc, they collaborate with the government to ensure that refuse bins are provided at strategic spots and are regularly emptied and that the streets are regularly swept. Sometimes we argue that this is the Nigerian way. This is incorrect because it is more of a structural absence than a behavioural mode. Experience has shown that Nigerians living abroad do not litter the streets nor dump refuse indiscriminately.
While there is subtle and internal competition between churches, focusing on non-doctrinal issues remains the only way to improve ecumenism and promote the holistic salvation of souls, which is the mission of Christ and every Christian denomination.
May God continue to help us🙏🏾
 Pope Francis, Video Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 30th anniversary of the election of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, 10 February 2022, available at URL: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/pont-messages/2022/documents/20220210-videomessaggio-30bartolomeo.html (accessed 23/02/2023).