Faith Matters

Youth have duty to protect environment

Pope Francis listens to a speech by Imelda Caicedo, pictured left, a delegate of the Ecuadorian coastal farmers association, during his visit to the San Francisco Church in Quito, Ecuador

WITH his encyclical Laudato Si sparking global debate, Pope Francis challenged Latin America's youth to take up his environmental protection campaign, saying the defence of God's creation is not just a recommendation but a requirement.

His appeal, delivered at Quito's Catholic University, is particularly relevant for Ecuador, a Pacific nation that is home to one of the world's most species-diverse ecosystems in the Galapagos Islands and Amazon rainforest, but is also an Opec country heavily dependent on oil extraction.

The pontiff told students and professors that God gave humanity the Earth to not only cultivate, but also to care for - a message he framed earlier this month in his encyclical.

"It is no longer a mere recommendation, but rather a requirement because of the harm we have inflicted on it by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed it," he said.

He challenged universities to ensure that students' educations are not aimed only at profitable careers but also at helping the poor and the environment.

"There is a relationship between our life and that of mother Earth, between the way we live and the gift we have received from God," he said.

Francis's environmental message has been cheered by indigenous groups, who have complained of being increasingly marginalised by Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa as he pushes mining and oil drilling in the Amazon.

That push, coupled with high crude prices, allowed Mr Correa to lift 1.3 million people out of poverty in his eight years in office.

Francis has called for environmentally responsible development that is aimed at helping the poor without sacrificing the planet.

Latin America is home to 40 per cent of the world's Catholics, but the Church is losing out to Protestant evangelicals.

While the drop-off in Spanish-speaking South America has not been as sharp as it has been in Brazil, it is notable: 95 per cent of Ecuador's population was Catholic in 1970 but today the figure is 79 per cent.

In a bid to counter the trend and return the Catholic Church to its evangelising origins, Francis has called for the Church to return to being a missionary church that looks out particularly for society's poorest and most marginalised.

"Evangelisation doesn't consist in proselytising, but in attracting by our witness to those who are far off, in humbly drawing near to those who feel distant from God and the church, those who are fearful or indifferent," Francis said.

"Proselytism is a caricature of evangelisation."

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