Just Gospel: Pope Francis’ Prayer Intention Regarding Seas and Oceans

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September 20, 2019

Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy introduces another series of articles on living Gospel justice in the light of Pope Francis’ monthly prayer intentions. This month focuses on those who are responsible for care for seas and oceans.

First, an introduction…

Here we are ready to step into a new series of Just Gospel articles. If you consider that title, of course we know it refers to the theme of justice in the Gospel. But, what about that other meaning of just? The dictionary offers the parallel words exactly, precisely or barely. We can take the last choice out of consideration here, but exactly or precisely really frame our purpose in these articles. We want to explore exactly how the Gospel relates to our everyday living as well as to the issues and challenges found in our contemporary world. Pope Francis includes this need to bring the Gospel into the flow of current events with his monthly prayer intentions. So once again, we will take a look at each month’s intention in the light of the Gospel and in the context of justice issues facing our global community.

This month…

This month Pope Francis asks us to pray with the following intention: That politicians, scientists and economists work together to protect the world’s seas and oceans. You might catch yourself saying, “Well this is not a job for me, as I live far from any sea or ocean. What can I do about it?” Geographically this is true, but we live in an increasingly connected community that spans the globe. Jacques Yves Cousteau, famed oceanographer tells us, “The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.” In other words, the care of our great gift of water and the life it supports has been given to all of us. From the days of Genesis in the garden, we have all been entrusted with the work of stewardship of all that God created.

Pope Francis shared a many-faceted plea for care of our global waters at the 2018 World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation which focused on water. Francis drew special attention to the more than 600 million people who do not have regular access to clean drinking water. He went on to say, “Access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival.” He continues, “In considering the fundamental role of water in creation and in human development, I feel the need to give thanks to God for ‘Sister Water,’ as St. Francis of Assisi said. Water is “simple and useful for life like nothing else on our planet.”

Again, Pope Francis urges us, “Fulfilling the Gospel mandate to give the thirsty something to drink involves more than acts of charity, although those are important. It also involves concrete choices and a constant commitment to ensure to all the primary good of water.” The Holy Father went on to challenge us as he said, “Believers have an obligation to work together to keep the oceans clean instead of allowing them to be littered by endless fields of floating plastic.”

These thoughts help us understand why we pray for scientists and economists in regard to oceans. So, why does the Pope include politicians in this prayer intention? Thinking of oceans and seas, also led the pope to think of the thousands of migrants and refugees who “risk their lives at sea in search of a better future.” He continues, “Let us ask the Lord and all those engaged in the noble service of politics that the more sensitive questions of our day, such as those linked to movements of migration, climate change and the right of everyone to enjoy primary goods, may be faced with generous and farsighted responsibility and in a spirit of cooperation, especially among those countries most able to help.”
Pope Francis also offered prayers for people who fish and others who earn their living at sea, for those who minister to them and for all the scientists and public policy experts who help the public recognize the treasures of the sea and work to protect them.
Now we know that the Church sees care of the oceans as a challenge based in Scripture and tied to the human rights of our brothers and sisters.

So, what can we as individuals do about this problem?

Here are some suggestions:
1. Our waters are part of the interconnectedness of creation. Energy issues effect evaporation rates and the health of oceans and seas. We can contribute to better balance as we lower energy consumption by making less car trips, turning off lights when not in use, wearing a sweater or using a fan so that heat and cooling does not require so much energy.
2. Try to eat only sustainable kinds of seafood. Here is a list of possibilities Bass, Catfish, Clams, Alaskan Pacific Cod, King or Snow Crab, Oysters, Perch, Prawns, New Zealand Salmon, Farmed Scallops, Farmed Shrimp, Smelt, Tilapia, Lake or Farmed Trout, Albacore Tuna, Lake Whitefish. (Seafood Watch website)
3. Use less plastic. Carry a reusable water bottle. Store food in non disposable containers. Bring your own cloth tote or other reusable bag when shopping, and recycle whenever possible. Avoid using a plastic straw in your drink and choose paper plates, bowls and cups rather than plastic or Styrofoam.
4. Participate as you can in shoreline cleanups and when visiting these areas be sure to clean up after yourself.
5. Influence change in the local community where you live and vote. Research the ocean policies of public officials before you vote or contact your local representatives to let them know you support marine conservation projects. Consider patronizing restaurants and grocery stores that offer only sustainable seafood, and speak up about your concerns if you spot a threatened species on the menu or at the seafood counter.
As we try to do our part in caring for the world’s gift of water, it is good to consider the words of Fabien Cousteau, Grandson of Jacques Cousteau, “Without water, our planet would be one of the billions of lifeless rocks floating endlessly in the vastness of the inky-black void.” Let us pray that God’s spirit continues to hover over the waters and that this same Spirit will lead us in our work as stewards of creation.

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