“At this point in the history of our country it is crucial that people motivated by religious faith develop a deep appreciation for the fragility of our islands’ life-systems and take steps to defend the Earth. It is a matter of life and death.” (CBCP Pastoral Letter “What is Happening to our Beautiful Land?”, 1988)

Every year on September 1 to October 4, we celebrate the Season of Creation. This is the third year that our diocese has celebrated the Season with renewed fervor following the release of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ Pastoral Exhortation on caring for our common home.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines proposed its celebration to Filipino Catholics as “Creation Time” as early as 2003. In their pastoral letter, “Celebrating Creation Day and Creation Time”, the bishops wrote: “The life of God’s creation is ‘the ultimate pro-life issue’. We have been made stewards of this divine creation. We know that all humanity continues to fall in this regard as ecological destruction and degradation continues without abating.”

15 years later, today their message rings truer than ever. The environmental organization Ocean Conservancy released a report in April this year that includes the Philippines among the top five countries that contribute 55 to 60% of the total plastic waste that enters the world’s oceans, which is estimated to reach eight million metric tons a year. Our country produces 2.7 million metric tons of plastic waste every year, ranking third in this list of shame after China and Indonesia. Most of these comes primarily from local plastic consumption, e.g., plastic bags and wrappings, sachet containers, polystyrene or styrofoam, and many other single-use plastics.

This massive plastic pollution not only worsens the effects of flooding in our cities and communities, but also poses a direct threat to the lives of marine animals. Plastics also produce toxins that are harmful to the environment. Further, microplastics ingested by fishes affect the health of humans who eat them.

Pope Francis prophetically pointed out that “these problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish” (Laudato Si’ 22). “What we all need is an ‘ecological conversion’, whereby the effects of our encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in our relationship with the world around us. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” (Laudato Si’ 217)

Therefore, as a community of Christ’s disciples in our Diocese of Legazpi, let us heed the call for ecological conversion. Let us acknowledge first our complicity to the throwaway culture, and how we too have contributed to the current state of pollution around us. Let us discern our lifestyle, be conscious of our choices as consumers, and make small concrete steps with a view towards making more profound changes in the way we live and interact with other creatures in our common home.

In particular, I exhort all our parishes, Catholic schools, religious communities, and church organizations to come together to learn and discern how to challenge the prevailing throwaway culture, and commit to take specific and concrete steps to REFUSE single-use plastics; REUSE plastic bags and containers, choosing only items that are reusable; and REDUCE our dependence on plastic in general.

Let us take to heart this particular passage from Pope Francis’ Message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation this year: “We cannot allow our seas and oceans to be littered by endless fields of floating plastic. Here too our active commitment is needed to confront this emergency. We need to pray as if everything depended on God’s providence, and work as if everything depended on us.”

May Mary, our Mother of Salvation, our refuge in times of calamities, intercede for us and inspire our efforts along the path of ecological conversion. Amen.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+JOEL Z. BAYLON, Bishop of Legazpi (26 September 2018)

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