Undoubtedly, Pope Francis is the pontiff who has most explicitly expressed the Catholic Church’s commitment to the environment and to the protection of our planet’s natural resources.

Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI certainly expressed the need to build a “human ecology.” However, it was Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si’, who showed us in a comprehensive way that “everything is connected”—that is, that the various dimensions of life are intertwined and interrelated: human development, economic progress, social life, cultural processes, political decisions, and the environment.

Francis affirmed, “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right” (LS 33).

This and many other similar assertions reveal to us, in Francis’s teachings, perhaps the most significant contemporary plea for the value of the living creatures that inhabit our planet.

Obviously, for Pope Francis, every human being is a person, has dignity, and deserves special respect. However, the relationship of the person with his or her natural environment, with his or her neighbor, and with God, are all essential.

For this reason, recognizing with amazement the wonder of creation, the mystery of each person, and the transcendent dimension that we all have is integral to a truly Christian humanism that is personalistic, ecological, and communitarian.

In other words, an authentic “culture of life” involves an educational journey that embraces all these aspects with their proper connections and interdependence. It is not surprising, then, that in recent days, a campaign of criticism against the pope has erupted on social media, where people have been posting photos of their pets as a way to protest his statements on the significance of fatherhood and motherhood.

Indeed, Francis has pointed out the fact that there are couples who, although able to have children, opt to substitute them with pets. Pope Francis’s affirmation was not sanctimoniousness, nor was it merely an off-the-cuff remark. On the contrary, he seeks to point out that there are cultural distortions in which the love that should be given to children is replaced with love for pets. Pope Francis was not trying to criticize the care and affection that we can have for our animals.

On the contrary, he is trying to point out that there are different types of affection, and that trying to substitute one for the other, as if they were of the same nature, negatively compromises our humanity. To be properly human is precisely to be able to distinguish the differences between types of love and affection, so that they can eventually be realized and fulfilled and can contribute to building conditions for true integral development for all. Here it would be appropriate to paraphrase Jacques Maritain and affirm that it is necessary “to distinguish in order to unite” and not “to substitute in order to displace.”

This article was originally published in Spanish by El Heraldo de México. It has been translated into English and published on Where Peter Is with the permission of the author.

Image: Adobe Stock. By Chalabala.

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Rodrigo Guerra López is the secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

Originally from Mexico City, he graduated in philosophy from the Free Popular University of the State of Puebla, Mexico; he was then awarded a higher degree in university humanism from the Ibero-American University, Mexico, and a doctorate in philosophy from the International Academy of Philosophy of the Principality of Liechtenstein.

He has held the role of academic coordinator of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute in Mexico City and has served as professor of metaphysics, bioethics, and philosophy of law at the PanAmerican University, Mexico. In 2013 he held the Karol Wojtyla Memorial Lectures at the Catholic University of Lublin, Poland.

From 2004 to 2007 he directed the Observatorio Socio Pastoral of the Latin American Episcopal Council. In 2008 he founded the Centro de Investigación Social Avanzada (CISAV), of which he is professor-researcher of the Division of Philosophy and member of the Consejo de Gobierno.

He is a member of the theological commission of the Latin American Episcopal Council and of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and is the author of numerous publications in the field of anthropology, bioethics, and social philosophy.

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