Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A New World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation

In an August 6 Papal Letter, addressed to Their Eminences Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson (President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace) and Cardinal Kurt Koch (President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity), Pope Francis has announced the institution of an annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, to be observed on September 1, following the practice of the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox connection is significant. The Pope begins his letter by stating that he is instituting this day "at the suggestion" of Metropolitan Ioannis, the representative of the Greek orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, whose concern for the environment the Pope had already acknowledged in his encyclical Laudato Si'.

Our contemporary secular society seems inundated with all sorts of special thematic, days, weeks, and months. Some, like Mother's Day and Father's Day, are widely observed. Others have much more limited appeal and may only be known to a somewhat more limited audience. Some, like National Doughnut Day (the 1st Friday in June) may merit as much humor as serious observance. 

In recent decades, the Church too has begun to institute such special days, creating a kind of thematic calendar apart from the more traditional liturgical calendar. Thus we now have, for example, a World Day of Consecrated Life on the feast of the Presentation (February 2), a World Day of the Sick on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes (February 11), and a World Day of Prayer for Vocations on the 4th Sunday of Easter - to cite three of the better known such special days. To these, Pope Francis has now added a new World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on September 1.

Such special days (both religious and secular) seem to be one of our modern ways of highlighting a particular cause or concern. So it seems especially fitting that the cause of the Care of Creation, so obviously an important preoccupation of the Pope as his recent encyclical attests, should likewise merit a day of its own. "The annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation will," Pope Francis hopes, "offer individual believers and communities a fitting opportunity to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live." In giving the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation such an explicitly ecumenical context, Pope Francis is acknowledging and highlighting the fact that this is "a time when all Christians are faced with the same decisive challenges, to which we must respond together, in order to be more credible and effective."

Hopefully, this new Catholic and ecumenical World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation will heighten the consciousness of Christians regarding the spiritual and religious dimensions of the world-wide environmentally related challenges outlined in such detail in Laudato Si' and will further foster the kind of spiritual and religious conversion of heart which alone can effectively respond to those challenges. 

For American Catholics, this new World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation comes virtually on the eve of the Pope's pastoral visit to the United States, a further invitation to the American Catholic community to realign its priorities along the lines laid out in Laudato Si'.

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