Laudato Si: “The Church is working on people’s consciences,” says Cardinal Salazar

October 29, 2015

President of CELAM says we need to work toward an ecological conversion on all levels, starting with those who are at the forefront of development

Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez, Archbishop of Bogotá, is President of the Leadership of the Episcopal Conferences of Latin America (CELAM) and one of the bishops signing the appeal released on 26 October.  The text was signed by representatives of various continental bodies of the Catholic Church, and the Colombian cardinal signed the document on behalf of the 22 Latin American Bishops’ Conferences that form part of CELAM.

Salazar commented that it will take more than just COP 21 to resolve the environmental problems the world currently faces.  It requires a commitment on everyone’s part.  Fossil fuels were among the issues the cardinal touched on.  

“In “Laudato Si’”,” the archbishop said, “the Pope sent out a very strong appeal for economic profit not to become a priority above ethical and moral principles. Our main task is to support a sustainable development that is not harmful for humanity”.

“And yes, we know for certain,” he observed, “that petrol, like all fossil fuels are doing immense harm, so either we go on believing that the economy and profit are the most important things, or we begin to see that the really crucial thing is the need to preserve, conserve nature. I believe we need to be very clear on this.” “This does not mean we are now saying that we need to stop extracting oil or that the entire world needs to stop using cars or fossil fuels. Obviously this is impossible. But what we can do, is engage in efforts to replace fossil fuels in order to reduce the emissions that are poisoning the environment.”

The risk, however, is that the economic interests of big multinationals will always prevail.

But, the way the cardinal sees it, “the problem we continue to face is this:  do we go on with economic development no matter what the cost or do we protect Creation?

We have already seen that in some parts of the world we are witnessing very serious situations indeed as a result of pollution produced precisely by these fossil fuels.” But in addition to this, there is another problem and that is the widespread, individual change in people’s lifestyles.

“What we need is an ecological conversion,” the cardinal pointed out. “The kind of conversion the Pope presents to us in the “Laudato Si’” and a conversion requires radical change; we need to change our mentalities, we cannot continue with our old habits, wasting energy on the one hand and using highly polluting types of energy on the other. Yes, we need to change mentality.” The appeal addressed to COP 21, calls for an official global commitment, the aim is to involve and inspire a sense of responsibility in governments.

CELAM’s president said, “if industrialised countries, those countries that are at the forefront of global development, do not consciously try to search for ways of developing another type of development that does not pollute and destroy, then we won’t get very far”.

“We are already feeling the negative effects of this development which disregards the environment and human beings. We are already experiencing the effects of this utterly irrational development; so it is time for those who lead the way in terms of development on a global level, to think about how to change things,” the cardinal went on to say.

But the issue raises another question: the question of how much the voice of the Church is actually heard among governments and big businesses and more in general, the kind of awareness there is with regard to the question as a whole.

The Archbishop of Bogotá sees some encouraging signs: “I think people are starting to realise that catastrophe is near. I believe there is undoubtedly a growing awareness and the Pope’s encyclical sends out a strong appeal to everyone to start thinking about these problems seriously, to take scientific data seriously and for necessary decisions to be taken.”

“We need to appeal to these consciences and this is what we are doing. This is what the appeal ahead of the Paris summit is aiming at.”

Latin America in particular – where many of the world’s most serious environmental problems are concentrated – is doing a great deal for the environment, starting with the protection of the Amazon forest. “The Church in Latin America is working hard on these issues,” Salazar stressed. “CELAM has set up a network called REPAM, whose aim it is unite all Churches in the Amazon region to promote environmental research and establish pastoral criteria with a view to introduce this mentality gradually.”

“In Colombia, for example,” the archbishop revealed, “the Church works with the poorest communities to ensure an integral development that does not just take account of the economic aspect, but also the human and community aspect. I believe we have already come a long way.” REPAM plays an important role in the protection of the Amazon.

In mid-November, we are going to be holding a meeting of all ecclesiastical jurisdictions, dioceses and apostolic vicariates that have some connection to the Amazon, in order to propose concrete solutions to the problems that arise.”

Colombia also faces one problem in particular, that also affects other parts of Latin America and that is the indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources through mining. According to Salazar, “this is a huge problem for the country. It is a problem because unfortunately it does not take stock of all aspects of the issue at hand.

The Church is strongly committed to this issue and we held an episcopal plenary assembly a while back, looking at the country’s mining problems and the terrible effects it has.  But our voice was not really heard.” Among other things, the cardinal pointed out how serious it was that the government does not yet have a clear policy for reducing the harmful effects of mining.

“It is a very serious problem and when the country turns into a desert  we will say: ‘what a pity!’. Sadly it is not quite hitting home and mines continue to be exploited in an irrational manner, causing massive damage to the environment and very serious problems to nature and the communities living near the mines.” But this problem is not limited to Colombia: “It is a problem that affects Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Mexico, it is a problem that affects the whole of Latin America. Hence, CELAM is working hard on the mining issue, notably though the department of justice and solidarity. I think that our work as a Church is essentially this: to spread awareness about the reality because this is our only weapon.”

Cross-posted from The Vatican Insider, by Francisco Peloso, Vatican City.  See complete article at: