Friday, September 1, is the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. The day has been celebrated as such by the Orthodox Churches since 1989; Pope Francis made it a day of prayer for creation in 2015. The Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch are preparing a joint message to be released this September 1, and churches around the globe will mark the day as the beginning of the Season of Creation which ends with the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, on October 4.
In the U.S., we are celebrating this year’s World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation after witnessing one of the most devastating hurricanes to make landfall in years. Meanwhile in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal floods have killed well over one thousand people and left millions homeless. It is indeed a moment to “listen to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor,” as the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch will insist in their message.
Actually, what made Hurricane Harvey so devastating was a silent and long-ignored “cry of the Earth” in the region, that is, large-scale environmental degradation in recent decades. For one, a significantly warmer Gulf of Mexico and higher sea levels (yes, caused by climate change) played a role in Harvey’s strength. And then there were the realities on the ground in Texas. Just think of these statistics: In the last 20 years alone, almost 40,000 acres of wetlands disappeared in the greater Houston area – wetlands that served as natural sponges in times of torrential rains. Instead of these wetlands, the construction of roads, parking places, housing, office buildings, and strip malls boomed in Houston. Within just ten years, one county saw a 53% increase in “water-resistant surfaces” – think asphalt and cement! – which disable drainage.
How, then, to mark appropriately the 2017 World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation? I think that speaking truth about the human-made ecological devastations of our times is of crucial importance – especially in the face of those in power who deny or downplay them. Prayer for the Care of Creation must not be built on half-truths – one might, after all, be holding the “false” end of the half-truth stick. And to ask God to stop flood-surges in low-lying communities is akin to asking God to stop the rising waters in a bath tub we were filling. It is our responsibility to turn the faucet off. God will not do that for us.
Beyond this basic, inconvenient truth, the good folks over at the Catholic Climate Covenant offer great resources for individuals as well as parish communities to mark the 2017 World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, for example a prayer service series, Finding God in the Wilderness to be used on the four Sundays between September 1st and October 4th, and a Feast of St. Francis program, Befriend the Wolf: A Blessing of All Creation, which can be used on October 4th, or any other date for that matter.
We are also encouraged to pray with the words of Pope Francis’ “Prayer for Our Earth,” from his encyclical Laudato Si’:
you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.