The late Orthodox Patriarch Dimitrios I, recognizing the signs of the times, instituted the first Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on September 1, 1989. The date was chosen deliberately as September 1 is the first day of the new year in the Orthodox calendar. It is on this day that according to tradition, Christ entered the synagogue to announce His mission to the world (Luke 4:16-22).
Subsequently the World Council of Churches established the Season of Creation between September 1 and October 4, the Feast of St. Francis. In 2015, Pope Francis declared that the Season of Creation was to be observed by the Catholic Church, which is not a member but an observer at the World Council of Churches.
In his message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation 2023, entitled “Let Justice and Peace Flow,” Pope Francis uses the theme of water and rivers to address ecological justice. He proposes three main tasks that need to be urgently accomplished. First, he asks each of us to transform our heart and embrace what Saint John Paul II called an “ecological conversion” which allows us to see creation as a sacred gift to be cherished rather than an object to be exploited. Second, this conversion of heart needs to lead to a transformation of lifestyle and a profound repentance for what Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople calls “ecological sins”. A Christian lifestyle, according to Pope Franics should be marked by “less waste and unnecessary consumption especially where the processes of production are toxic and unsustainable”. Third, “we must transform the public policies that govern our societies and shape the lives of young people today and tomorrow.” In short, Pope Francis calls for a transformation of our own heart, our individual and communal actions, as well as local and global policies.
Pope Francis then makes a link between “ecological Conversion” and the Catholic Church’ commitment to synodality which can be summarized as an intentional way of journeying together as the People of God. This journey is to be rooted in shared wisdom and marked by shared responsibility.
October 4 is not only the last day of the season of Creation, but also the first day of the synod on the above mentioned synodality. Using the image of “a river basin with its many tiny and larger tributaries,” Pope Francis described the Church as a “communion of countless local Churches, religious communities and associations that draw from the same shared waters. Each source adds its unique and irreplaceable contribution, until all flow together into the vast ocean of God’s loving mercy… In the same way that a river gives life to all kinds of animal and plant life, a synodal Church must give life by sowing justice and peace in every place it reaches.”
Quoting from his homily preached during his pilgrimage to Canada in the summer of 2022 Pope Francis goes on to state that “fraternity is genuine if it unites those who are far apart” while “the message of unity that heaven sends down to earth does not fear differences, but invites us to fellowship, a communion of differences, in order to start afresh together, because we are all pilgrims on a journey.”
Pope Francis concludes his letter by urging all followers of Christ who are on this shared synodal journey to “live, work and pray that our common home will teem with life once again.” Then he invokes the Holy Spirit to “once more hover over the waters and guide our efforts to renew the face of the earth” where justice and peace will flow. Johan Van Parys
Director of Liturgy and Sacred Art