Introduction

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on the role of the Church in preserving our natural home. My contribution will be primarily practice-oriented and largely based on practice - the experience of environmental service of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Pope Francis teaches in the encyclical Laudato si’ that in the context of the global environmental crisis (chapter 1), global environmental conversion and joint effective action (219) based on a holistic ecology are needed to save the common home (chapter 4-6).

The Church has a special competence and responsibility to promote ecological conversion, which begins with the conversion of the heart - with conversion to God, which must be holistic and also manifest itself in the changes of consciousness, in environmental virtues and new ecological lifestyles and attitudes towards the environment.

In Christian churches, we increasingly hear a voice in defense of the environment. Responsibility for nature becomes one of the principles of the Church's social doctrine. Different educational, prayerful and practical initiatives are launched in different Churches. We also have a number of positive ecumenical and environmental examples. This is the ecumenical-ecological round table of 2009 "Ecology of Life", held on the basis of the Ministry of Environmental Protection of Ukraine, which aimed to promote the introduction of the Day of Prayer for the preservation of creation, by which the UGCC joined the initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This is the conference in 2010 "Spirituality as the basis of environmental culture and responsibility"; it is of course also the international scientific-practical environmental-ecumenical conference "Laudato si’: environmental contribution to sustainable development of society" in December 2019.

 

Of particular note is the joint Address of the Ukrainian Christian Churches on the occasion of the Day of God the Creator in 2013, signed by the seven heads of the Ukrainian Christian Churches, in which they diagnose the moral nature of the ecological crisis and call on believers to effective Christian love, which is expressed in a caring and responsible attitude towards the world created God, and calls on all those entrusted with power and responsibility for the country to do everything necessary to protect and preserve its unique natural environment and ensure the ecological security of society.

However, as was stated yesterday at the conference "Hear the Cry of the Earth: Integral Ecology in Action", there is often a lack of a systematic approach and consistency in environmental ministry, including the life and work of the Church.

In this sense, as Pope Francis rightly observes in his encyclical Laudato si’, "We have before us a significant cultural, spiritual and educational challenge involving a long process of restoration" (LS, 202), to which the Church of Christ is called to join. And this is not a tribute to fashion. Is it necessary to help the authorities if they do not cope with their environmental responsibilities in a particular environmental field. But we are talking about a fundamental component of the life of the Church and the Christian faith.

Ecological ministry of the UGCC

One of the first steps in the church-ecological path of the UGCC was active participation in the consultative process of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE) on the responsibility for creation in Europe (1999-2004), within which relevant resolutions and recommendations were adopted. In particular, it was concluded that the responsibility for creation is not secondary to the Church, but should become one of the priorities of the new evangelization - promoting the ministry of modern man's encounter with Christ in the context of today's socio-environmental challenges. Accordingly, it was recommended that all European Bishops' Conferences establish institutions for the development of church environmental activities.

According to these recommendations, the Synod of Bishops of the UGCC established the Ecological Bureau, which aims to form a Christian ecological culture and raise environmental awareness in society through educational activities and practical initiatives.

Among the main activities of the UGCC Ecological Bureau:

- dissemination of church environmental doctrine; ecological education and upbringing based on Christian faith and ethics; drawing attention to modern environmental problems and helping to find answers to their solutions; preparation, translation and publication of literature for environmental education, formation and coordination of the Interparish Ecological Network of the UGCC; promotion of specialized environmental education for theology students, priests, catechists and teachers of Christian ethics; cooperation with state environmental protection bodies and non-governmental organizations; promotion of ecological and ecumenical dialogue; initiation of practical environmental initiatives.

In this way, the Ecobureau of the UGCC seeks to revitalize and develop ecological ministry in key dimensions of the Church's life, from sowing the word of God, sacramental life and prayer, to ecological deaconry and promoting the wise management of God's natural gifts.

I will try to illustrate the ecological ministry of the UGCC in the triad of the Church's life: "kerygma-liturgy-diakonia" with a few examples.

Kerygma or the proclamation of God's ecological truths. It is true that the world is not an accidental product of evolution, but that God's good creation, given to man for his good, for responsible use, for multiplying God's natural gifts, and for sharing them in a spirit of love and justice.

There are a number of educational initiatives to spread God's environmental truths aimed at help to meet Christ in the context of current environmental challenges. These are, for example, the environmental initiative "Environmental conversion for salvation of creation", "Environmental missions" and "Spiritual and environmental camps".

In particular, it is worth noting the Lenten Eco-Initiative, which was held for the tenth year in a row this year and which aims to help to deeply and fully experience the process of repentance and conversion to God, by deepening awareness of responsibility for God's created world and ways of implementing it in everyday life.

To do this, appropriate thematic materials are developed, including environmental sermons, catechisms and spiritual impulses; parishes and schools establish environmental libraries, including thematic publications of the Environmental Bureau on the theory and practice of the defender of God's creation.

Liturgical and prayer dimension. Here we would like to give an example of celebrating the day of prayer for the preservation of creation, which in the UGCC according to the decisions of the Synod and the address of His Beatitude Lubomyr Husar is celebrated on September 14, 2009, i.e. at the beginning of the church year according to the Julian calendar.

According to the decisions of the Synod of Bishops, on this day every priest has a duty to teach his faithful about their Christian responsibility for the world created by God.

This is a special feast, which is called by glorifying our Creator and giving thanks for his gifts and charity to contribute to the strengthening of our faith and life according to His commandments in various dimensions, and in particular in relation to His creation - nature.

In order to popularize the day of prayer for creation, an annual competition on the topic "Responsibility for creation" was established, which lasts all the time of celebration, i.e. until October 17 – Feast of St. Francis for Assisi, the patron saint of ecologists and all those who care about the preservation of creation.

The competition aims to nurture and spread awareness towards Christian responsibility for the world created by God – nature, and takes place in the categories - prayer - poetry - sermon-catechism - drawing and fairy tale. The best works are published in separate collections and become handy material for ecological preaching and catechesis.

On the Day of Prayer for Creation, annual environmental missions traditionally begin to convey the Church's teachings on responsibility for creation to all our faithful. During the celebration of the “time of creation”, diocesan referents of the Ecobureau hold various thematic events with school and student youth, parish communities, local governments, entrepreneurs, public organizations, etc.

The main goals of these meetings are to draw attention to environmental issues, to promote the identification of major environmental sins of society, to encourage environmental conversion and lifestyle changes, to teach "new lifestyles", i.e. how environmental responsibility and diakonia should be implemented in practice.

Ecological diakonia

In his encyclical Laudato si’, Pope Francis states: "Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.. " (LS 91).

 

In addition to the kerygma and the sacramental-liturgical life, a key element of the life and activity of the Church is diakonia, which is an indicator of the living faith of the Church present in the fruits of love, especially for those who need it most. Ecological diakonia is an integral part of the service of love. It is the response of Christians and the Church to the suffering of nature, which leads to human suffering.


One of the important elements of environmental diakonia is activities aimed at improving energy efficiency and energy savings. The UGCC Ecobureau conducts energy audits of church buildings to identify opportunities for saving energy and natural resources, developing energy saving measures and implementing energy efficiency mechanisms, as well as helping to save costs and reducing the negative impact on the environment.


A significant challenge for Ukrainian society is the lack of a national system of separate waste collection, which leads to the loss of natural resources and environmental pollution and harmful effects on public health. To overcome the existing stereotypes and presentation for the wide public an example of solving this issue, the Ecobureau of the UGCC implemented a pilot project Implementation of a system of separate waste collection in the town of Bilshivtsi. The project had a great resonance from the media and the public, as it was practically shown that the introduction of separate waste collection can be achieved anywhere and not only reduce environmental pollution, but also generate economic income that can be used to achieve various socio-environmental goals of the community.


The UGCC Ecological Bureau also participates in church activities aimed at helping victims of natural disasters, including floods in the summer of 2020, which led to floods in hundreds of settlements and tens of thousands of houses, destruction of roads, railways and bridges, and loss of the harvest on tens of thousands of hectares, as well as to the loss of human lives.

Wars are a great disaster for people and nature. In 2016, the UGCC Ecological Bureau launched an ecological initiative of indefinite duration "Plant a Tree of Peace", which aims to draw attention to the catastrophic socio-ecological consequences of the war in Eastern Ukraine, uniting in prayer and mercy for all of God's creation. The coordinators of the action at the regional level are diocesan representatives of the UGCC Ecological Bureau, and thanks to the support of the Ministry of Nature, national parks and reserves, educational institutions and local authorities and parish communities, hundreds of thousands of ornamental and fruit trees have been planted.

One of the most successful initiatives was "Let's Honor the Dead Without Harm to the Living" which was to explain the inexpediency and environmental damage of using plastic wreaths and flowers. Even according to the most modest estimates, this initiative did not let to release hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic plastic into the environment and saved millions of funds. One of the key requests under this initiative was to direct the money saved on plastic to charity for those in need of intentional death.

In conclusion, the ecological activity of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is primarily pastoral and is implemented in the triad of church life - "kerygma - liturgy - deakonia", in order to promote ecological conversion of the heart based on Christian faith and ethics, which is an important element of God’s creation and ecology of the environment, which, in turn, is an important component of sustainable development and the common good of contemporaries and future generations.