Pope Francis’ letter to the Conference on “Our Ocean, An Ocean for Life”

October 10, 2017



Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,

I am pleased to convey the cordial greetings of His Holiness Pope Francis to all assembled for this Fourth International Conference on Our Ocean, an Ocean for Life.

Your Conference deals with complex and interrelated issues such as the health of the oceans, as well as the coordination and management of various activities above or under the seas. His Holiness takes this occasion to encourage a concerted effort to address a number of pressing issues that directly affect the welfare of countless men and women: human trafficking, slave labour and inhumane working conditions associated with the fishing industry and commercial shipping, the standard of living and development opportunities in coastal communities and the families of those who fish, and the situation of islands threatened by rising sea levels.

Reflecting on these issues inevitably leads to two conclusions. The first is a recognition of our duty to care for the oceans as part of an integrated vision of human development. The second concerns the need for multilateral governance aimed at the pursuit of the common good and equipped to operate at the global and regional levels, guided by international law and inspired by the principle of subsidiarity and respect for the dignity of each human person (cf. Laudato Si’, 174).

The oceans are the common heritage of the human family. Only with a deep sense of humility, wonder and gratitude can we rightly speak of the ocean as “ours”. To care for this common inheritance necessarily involves rejecting cynical or indifferent ways of acting. We cannot pretend to ignore the problems of ocean pollution resulting, for example, from plastic and micro-plastics that enter the food chain and cause grave consequences for the health of marine and human life. Nor can we remain indifferent before the loss of coral reefs, essential places for the survival of marine biodiversity and the health of the oceans, as we witness a marvellous marine world being transformed into an underwater cemetery, bereft of colour and life (cf. Laudato Si’, 41).

The oceans unite us and summon us to work together. As His Holiness noted in Laudato Si’, “everything is interconnected”. Our world today needs to see that the oceans are a crucial resource in the fight against poverty and climate change, both of which are intrinsically linked (cf. Message of Pope Francis to COP22 to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, 10 November 2016). There is a need for new technologies to foresee various problems involving the proper governance of the oceans, but also for a change in the way we live, and offering new models of production and consumption, in order to promote an authentic and integral human development that values good governance and embraces it responsibly.

For all too long, it has been thought that the sheer vastness of the oceans would allow for negligence, the disposal of toxic waste, and freedom from oversight by the authorities. For all too long, no consideration has been given to the grave effects on marine and coastal ecosystems of the often unregulated exploitation of certain ocean resources. I think, for example, of complex and invasive means of extracting mineral resources from the seabed, which, thanks to advances in technology, are increasingly viable and competitive. For too long, attention has been focused on situations of crime and human tragedy at sea, without courageously and adequately facing their causes, which are often to be found on land. It is time to work with greater responsibility to safeguard our oceans, our common home, and our brothers and sisters, today and in the future.

The book of Genesis teaches that in the beginning “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (1:2). This verse reminds us that the oceans hold particular importance for many religions. Spirituality can provide powerful incentives for the protection of the oceans, and, more generally, for the care of all creation (cf. Laudato Si’, 216). “Science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both” (Laudato Si’, 62).

The oceans remind us of the need to educate for the covenant between humanity and the environment (cf. Laudato Si’, 209-215). In this regard, efforts should be made to train young people to care for the oceans but also, wherever possible, helping them to grow in knowledge, appreciation and contemplation of their vastness and grandeur. For the contemplation of creation can teach us valuable lessons and be an unending a source of inspiration (cf. Laudato Si’, 85).

With the assurance of my own deep interest in the deliberations of the Conference, I have the honour to reiterate Pope Francis’s prayerful good wishes and to convey his blessing.

Yours sincerely,
Secretary of State,
Piero Card. Parolin

From the Vatican, 27 September 2017





The current situation of environmental degradation, closely connected to the human, ethical and social degradation (Encyclical Laudato Si’, nn. 48, 56, 122) that unfortunately we experience every day, calls upon all of us, each with his or her own role and competences, and leads us to meet here with a renewed sense of awareness and responsibility.

The Kingdom of Morocco hosts the COP22 a few days after the entry in force of the Paris Agreement, adopted less than a year ago. Its adoption represents the important awareness that, faced with issues as complex as climate change, individual and/or national action is not enough; instead it is necessary to implement a responsible collective response truly intended to “work together in building our common home” (ibid., n. 13). On the other hand, the rapid entry into force of the Agreement strengthens the conviction that we can and we must employ our intelligence to guide technology, as well as to cultivate and also to limit our power (ibid., n. 78), and to “put it at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., n. 112), able to put the economy at the service of the human person, to build peace and justice and to safeguard the environment.

The Paris Agreement has traced a clear path on which the entire international community is called to engage; the COP22 represents a central stage in this journey. It affects all humanity, especially the poorest and the future generations, who represent the most vulnerable component of the troubling impact of climate change, and call us to the grave ethical and moral responsibility to act without delay, in a manner as free as possible from political and economic pressures, setting aside particular interests and behaviour.

In this regard I convey my greetings to you, Mr. President, and to all the participants in this Conference, along with my strong encouragement that your work in these days be inspired by the same collaborative and constructive spirit expressed during COP21. After this latter there began the phase of implementing the Paris Agreement: a delicate moment of exchange, entering in a more concrete way into the formulation of rules, institutional mechanisms and the elements necessary for correct and effective implementation. These are complex aspects that cannot be delegated solely to technical expertise but which require continual political support and encouragement, based on the recognition that “we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalisation of indifference” (ibid., n. 52).

One of the main contributions of this Agreement is that of stimulating the promotion of strategies for national and international development based on an environmental quality that we could define as fraternal; indeed, it encourages solidarity in relation to the most vulnerable and builds on the strong links between the battle against climate change and that of poverty. Although there are many elements of a technical nature involved in this field, we are also aware that it cannot all be limited solely to the economic and technological dimension: technical solutions are necessary but they are not enough; it is essential and proper to take into careful consideration also the ethical and social aspects of the new paradigm of development and progress.

Here we enter into the fundamental fields of education and the promotion of lifestyles that favour sustainable models of production and consumption (cf. ibid., n. 180); and we are reminded of the need to promote the growth of a responsible awareness of our common home (cf. ibid., nn. 202, 231). In this task, all the State Parties are called to give their contribution, along with the non-party stakeholders: civil society, the private sector, the scientific world, financial institutions, subnational authorities, local communities, indigenous populations.

In conclusion, Mr. President and all participants in the COP22, I convey my best wishes that the works of the Marrakech Conference be guided by that awareness of our responsibility that must drive each one of us to promote seriously a “‘culture of care’ which permeates all society” (ibid., n. 231), care in relation to creation, but also for our neighbour, near or far in space and time. The lifestyle based on the throwaway culture is unsustainable and must have no place in our models of development and education. This is an educational and cultural challenge which must respond also to the process of implementing the Paris Agreement if it is to be truly effective. While I pray for the successful and fruitful work of the Conference, I invoke upon you and all the participants the Blessing of the Almighty, which I ask you to convey to all the citizens of the countries you represent.

Vatican, 10 November 2016