October 31: The Pasig in the Vatican

Pope Francis is writing an encyclical on the environment—what activists and advocates alike have taken to calling an eco-encyclical. It is likely that, as in the case of Evangelii Gaudium, the writing is taking on a public character — that is, that some of the themes are already being worked out in the Pope’s homilies and interviews and addresses.

Pope Francis has from the start spoken against what he calls the throwaway culture, a culture of deliberate waste. Last year, at a General Audience, he made the link between “cultivating and caring for creation” (which should provide for all our needs) and the culture of waste even more explicit.

“This culture of waste has also made us insensitive to wasting and throwing out excess foodstuffs, which is especially condemnable when, in every part of the world, unfortunately, many people and families suffer hunger and malnutrition. There was a time when our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any left over food. Consumerism has induced us to be accustomed to excess and to the daily waste of food …”

The culture of waste leaves in its wake “a swath of destruction and death which will affect our own lives and those of future generations,” the Pope writes in Evangelii Gaudium. Then, startlingly, he makes his own “the touching and prophetic lament voiced some years ago [in 1988, to be exact] by the bishops of the Philippines: ‘An incredible variety of insects lived in the forest and were busy with all kinds of tasks… Birds flew through the air, their bright plumes and varying calls adding color and song to the green of the forests… God intended this land for us, his special creatures, but not so that we might destroy it and turn it into a wasteland… After a single night’s rain, look at the chocolate brown rivers in your locality and remember that they are carrying the life blood of the land into the sea… How can fish swim in sewers like the Pasig and so many more rivers which we have polluted? Who has turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of color and life?’”

The Pasig flows, fitfully, through the Vatican.

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