It is not very often that technologically advanced societies manage to lag behind the Vatican in the use of contemporary apparatus. But it happens on occasion. Last week, I blessed and dedicated the solar panels that are located on a field beside the Missionaries of Charity residence in Washington, D.C. It was a grand display of a cooperative engagement that linked Mother Teresa’s sisters at the Gift of Peace house, the Archdiocese of Washington’s Catholic Charities, the D.C. government, Catholic Energies, IGS Solar, and Solar Energy Services in designing and constructing the project that will eventually result in having the 5,072 panels located at the Gift of Peace site to deliver enough energy to power approximately 350 homes. The subsequent energy will offset the energy costs of the 12 Catholic Charities locations in the District of Columbia. The Vatican had already installed solar panels on the Paul VI Hall [the Nervi Audience Hall] at Pope Benedict XVI’s direction in November 2008 – more than a decade earlier than our own local project.

This local endeavor is another example of the prudent and wise use of our natural resources. I suspect other such neighborhood projects in our community may soon develop as the financial savings and the ecological benefits of solar energy will probably convince others of the wisdom of this type of joint enterprise. An equally beneficial result of this endeavor is that it serves as a welcome image of what can be achieved through a collaborative venture that brings together the Church, government, and industry to advance the common good. One of the participants at our inaugural dedication ceremony was a pastor from a diocese where his parish is now completely run through solar energy, resulting in enormous financial benefit for the parishioners as well as environmental advantages.

In 1990, Saint Pope John Paul II issued the following statement in the introduction of his World Day of Peace message. Faced with the widespread destruction of the environment, people everywhere are coming to understand that we cannot continue to use the goods of the Earth as we have in the past. The public in general as well as political leaders are concerned about this problem, and experts from a wide range of disciplines are studying its causes. Moreover, a new ecological awareness is beginning to emerge which, rather than being downplayed, ought to be encouraged to develop into concrete programs and initiatives.” 

While the impression is often given that Pope Francis has introduced this new concern regarding the environment, the truth is that both John Paul II and Benedict had already forcefully charged the Church and all societies to be more mindful of the preciousness of the natural world and those elements that are entrusted to each generation to be passed on to succeeding generations.

Pope Francis admittedly has contributed greater specificity to the burgeoning problems that we face as the world’s environmental issues have only intensified over the past several decades. Both in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and now here in the Archdiocese of Washington, I am delighted to follow the examples of these popes and to highlight ways that we can take a hands-on approach to preserving and using the good things of the Earth for ourselves and for all those who will follow us. This is not merely an industrial, political, or scientific responsibility, it is an obligation that we have as believers in the truth of the Book of Genesis 1:31: “And God looked at everything that He had made and found it very good.” May we all continue to look upon creation with the eyes of God.