ROME — Pope Francis urged a delegation of Cambodian Buddhists to conversion this week not to Christianity, but to environmental responsibility.
In his address to Buddhists in the Vatican Thursday, the pontiff did not utter the name of Jesus, but four times he insisted on the need for “ecological conversion” as the common call for both Buddhists and Christians alike.
“Ecological conversion happens when the human roots of the present environmental crisis are named,” the pope contended, and “when true repentance leads to the slowing or halting of trends, ideologies and practices that are hurtful and disrespectful to the earth.”
This conversion also takes place when “people commit to promoting models of developments that heal wounds inflicted by greed, excessive search for financial profits, lack of solidarity with neighbors and disrespect for the environment,” he said.
Ecological conversion “calls us to change gears, to change bad habits in order to be able to dream, co-create, and act together to realize just and equitable futures,” he added.
Both Buddhism and Christianity offer a wealth of means to sustain efforts to “cultivate ecological responsibility,” Francis proposed. “In following the tenets that the Buddha left as a legacy to his disciples, including the practices of metta, which involves not harming living things, and living a simple lifestyle, Buddhists can achieve a compassionate protection for all beings, including the earth, their habitat.”
For their part, Christians “fulfill their ecological responsibility when, as trustworthy stewards, they protect Creation, the work God has entrusted to them ‘to till and to keep,’” he said.
In 2015, Francis became the first pope in history to draft an entire encyclical letter on the theme of environmentalism, in which he asserted that situations of environmental degradation have caused sister earth “to cry out, pleading that we take another course.”
“Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain,” he declared. “We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth.”
“The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world,” he asserted.