It is not possible to live out one’s Christian faith by omitting one’s obligations with respect to ‘our sister and mother the earth,’
– Fr. Franck Allatin, Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Editor’s Note: Father Franck Allatin is the rector of the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace at Yamoussoukro in central Ivory Coast. On 17 September 2018 we published an interview he gave to Guy Aimé Eblotié of La Croix Africa on the treasures of African culture and how they can contribute to an African theology of ecology and the safeguarding of our common home, inspired by Laudato Si’.
In a follow-up conversation with the same journalist published by La Croix International on November 15, 2018, Fr. Allatin speaks of the contribution the African Church can make to the development of a theology of ecology in the light of Pope Francis’ encyclical. His perspectives are important to the Society of African Missions as we continue to work with the United Nations in supporting the African Union’s delivery of the Great Green Wall.
La Croix Africa: Does the encyclical Laudato Si’ form part of a larger current movement for raising awareness of ecology?
Father Franck Allatin: In so far as it describes the situation and the urgency of action to protect our planet, the answer is yes, the message of Laudato Si’ echoes that of the ecological movements.
The proof here is that, in drafting his encyclical, the pope drew on studies and works from these movements.
However, there is a difference in the approach and the paradigms that underlie Pope Francis’ reflection on preserving our “common home.”
Faithful to Christian tradition, the pope’s encyclical analyzes the ecological crisis from within a theology of creation.
In the pope’s view, the world is not something produced by humankind nor the result of chance but a work of God’s creative power of which humankind is a guardian and collaborator with God.
So Pope Francis’ approach “transcends” the categories of mathematics and biology and includes anthropology.
In fact, there is a correlation between ecology and anthropology to the extent that man’s relationship with his environment is influenced by the perception that humankind has a place of its own in the universe.
Pope Francis’ social encyclical on ecology is therefore not exclusively a statement about safeguarding the earth. Rather, it implies saving both humankind and the earth.
What part does respect for nature play in the demands of the Christian faith?
Biblical theology of creation teaches us that it is from the earth that the first man, Adam, was created.
So humankind has a symbiotic link with the earth to the point that, by degrading nature, man is indirectly attacking his own nature.
A truly fulfilled existence stands at the crossroads of three relationships, namely the relationship with God, with one’s neighbor and with the earth.
It is not possible to live out one’s Christian faith by omitting one’s obligations with respect to “our sister and mother the earth.”
Saints like Francis of Assisi show us that the more the human heart is ready to listen to God the more it becomes sensitive to the secret language of nature. Thus, humankind must not conceive of its relationship with the earth in terms of domination but in terms of service.
On this point, Pope Francis emphasizes in Laudato Si’ that our responsibility is “to cultivate and guard the garden of the world.”
How can the African Church appropriate the pope’s message on integral ecology?
The voice of the African Church needs to make itself better heard on the state of our planet.
Unfortunately, environmental issues do not yet play a significant role in our diocesan pastoral programs in Africa.
Whereas our traditional African cultures were very concerned with respect for the balance between humankind and the environment, paradoxically, this aspect of our traditions, which also had a religious dimension, has not been adequately expressed within our Christian faith.
So there is a vast field of research in the area of inculturation that could make a significant contribution to Africa and to a theology of ecology?
The Church itself also needs to give an example. This could range from the choice of materials in the construction of religious buildings to the use of energy sources that are environmentally respectful.
I have to admit that there has not yet been any real reflection on the issue at Our Lady of Peace Basilica in Yamoussoukro.
However, the planned hosting center at the basilica, the planning for which has already been completed, includes elements linked to biodiversity and the use of renewable energy sources.