In Front of Our Crying Mother Earth
The year 2020 marks a very painful and difficult year not only for us, but for all the peoples of the world. The current pandemic, COVID-19 proves that modern material civilization is at a major turning point. We need to look upon this crisis not simply from a medical or economic perspective, but from an integrated viewpoint within the context of modern civilization.
The Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ issued by Pope Francis in 2015, is a prophetic teaching which foresaw this situation and pointed out many of the harmful effects of modern material civilization. This Encyclical repeatedly urges each of us to take the lead in encouraging ‘ecological conversion.’ Even today, five years after the Encyclical was promulgated, Mother Earth continues to be damaged. In this sense, the COVID-19 pandemic clearly reveals that the Earth’s ecosystem has reached a critical tipping-point and cries out in pain.
The Global Climate Crisis Situation and Korea’s Complacency
At the 48th Session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 48), held in Songdo in Incheon, Korea on October 8, 2018, scientists from all around the world unanimously adopted the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C and urged that efforts be made to limit global average temperature to below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. To do this, it was agreed that global carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced by 45% compared to 2010 level by 2030, and that net emissions must reach zero by 2050.
Regrettably, as of 2020, Korea ranks seventh in the world for carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning and is one of the countries with the highest rate of increase in emissions among OECD countries. Even in the recently announced government’s eco-friendly policy, ‘Green New Deal,’ there seem to be no practical prospects or strategies aiming at a drastic reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
Special Laudato Si’ Anniversary Year and Seven-year Journey
The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development announced a Special Laudato Si’ Anniversary Year from May 24, 2020 to May 24, 2021. In 2022, the Dicastery will launch a seven-year journey towards promoting an integral and sustainable world, in accordance with the spirit of integral ecology proposed by Laudato Si’ The Holy See earnestly desires that the Special Anniversary Year and the following seven years will be a ‘time of grace for all God’s creatures’ (Kairόs) and a ‘Jubilee time’ in which all creatures truly experience the grace of God.
Activities of the Catholic Church in Korea
The 200th anniversary of the birth of St. Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, the first priest of the Catholic Church in Korea, will be celebrated in 2021. In his time, the Saint lamented the harsh reality in which children were dying from a smallpox epidemic. Because of this, he appealed to a French missionary to give him a prescription to eradicate the disease. Venerable Father Thomas Choe Yang-eop also made a request to a French mission society for help. He sought a method to purify water for the faithful and people suffering from diseases due to unsanitary water. As such, these two priests, pillars of the early Church in Korea, devoted themselves to caring for God’s sheep in their time of suffering and tribulation.
To preserve the order of God’s creation as inscribed in the Earth’s ecosystem, all the Korean bishops continue to address our Christian responsibility for the protection of creation. On the occasion of the 5th anniversary of Laudato Si’, the Church in Korea also issued the ‘Statement on the Climate Change Emergency’ in the name of all the Korean bishops on May 8, 2020. Shortly afterwards, the Korean bishops also concelebrated Holy Mass at Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral, Archdiocese of Seoul, on May 16, 2020.
Conversion and Resolution of the Catholic Church in Korea
We, the Korean bishops, in the spirit of repentance confess our shortcomings in hearing “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (Laudato Si’, n.49). We have failed to stand in solidarity with the poor. We have also fallen short of our responsibility to be custodians of creation. Hence, we, with heartfelt repentance, are determined to practice ecological conversion and proclaim the Gospel.
Tasks for the Catholic Church in Korea
The Catholic Church in Korea should actively participate in this jubilee year and the subsequent seven years of ecological effort, in communion with the universal Church. The present climate crisis and the cry of Mother Earth are urgent issues which the Catholic Church should prioritize in her pastoral and evangelizing missions. Therefore, each diocesan bishop should continue to demonstrate and encourage ecological conversion through his pastoral letters and inspire committees and parishes to prepare action plans and put them into practice.
‘Ecological conversion,’ to which we are called today, is a sign of the times and an act of love whereby we take part in the passion of Jesus Christ who cries out through the pains of creation. I hope that our ecological conversion can be expressed not only through environmental protection, but also in the active practice of faith.
At the end of the CBCK 2020 Autumn General Assembly
The Korean Bishops