Pope Francis on Thursday launched a degree course on ecology and the environment at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome.
The course of studies, called “Care of our common home and protection of creation,” was established in cooperation with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians.
A UNESCO Chair “On Futures of Education for Sustainability” was also inaugurated on Oct. 7.
In a letter to Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the university’s grand chancellor, Pope Francis said that a university education must “be able to respond to the numerous challenges currently posed to the whole of humanity and communities of believers, proposing a courageous coherent cultural drive and a scientifically valid project.
Structures and enthusiasm are not enough to face the environmental crisis, he added, saying “solid preparation is needed.”
“In the Catholic Church, attention to the protection of creation finds its roots in the patrimony of reflections, ideas, and tools for action contained in her social doctrine,” he said.
Francis said that expressions of freedom, justice, mutual respect, solidarity, equity, and the common good were used today to “justify any action” in the face of “the degradation that threatens the planet.”
“This is why educating and training remain the ways to go in order to move from commitment to the environment to proper ecological responsibility,” he commented.
Both believers and non-believers, he said, have a duty to develop concrete tools for safeguarding the planet’s ecosystems, “knowing that it is not given to us to dispose of them without measure.”
The pope added that the failure to have an ecological awareness not only has repercussions on the environment but also on human relationships and social life, and that these feed into the throwaway culture of exclusion, poverty, inequality, and forced displacement.
Patriarch Bartholomew and Audrey Azoulay, the director-general of UNESCO, were also present at the meeting, which included a speech by Pope Francis.
The pope encouraged the Lateran academic community to have “an attitude that requires openness, creativity, broader educational offers, but also sacrifice, commitment, transparency and honesty in choices, especially in this difficult time.”
“Let us definitively abandon that ‘it has always been done this way,’” the pope said, calling it a suicidal mentality, which “generates superficiality and answers that are valid only in appearance.”
“Instead, we are called to qualified work, which asks everyone for generosity and gratuitousness to respond to a cultural context whose challenges await concreteness, precision, and the ability to confront,” he said.
“May God fill us with his tenderness and pour out the strength of his love on our path,” he concluded, “‘so that we sow beauty and not pollution and destruction.’”
Francis has sought to galvanize efforts to protect the environment since his election in 2013. He issued the encyclical Laudato si’ in 2015, ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, which negotiated the Paris Agreement.
He hopes to attend the 2021 U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26), which begins at the end of October in Scotland.
The Glasgow summit will encourage governments to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.