In August Pope Francis asked us to pray “that artists of our time, through their ingenuity, may help everyone discover the beauty of creation.”
Artists can truly help us see the beauty of creation, but at times their work to preserve the environment can detract instead of add to the beauty. Pope Francis explained in his encyclical Laudato si’ how artists should respect the cultural patrimony of a particular region when trying to respect God’s creation.
He wrote, “Together with the patrimony of nature, there is also an historic, artistic and cultural patrimony which is likewise under threat. This patrimony is a part of the shared identity of each place and a foundation upon which to build a habitable city. It is not a matter of tearing down and building new cities, supposedly more respectful of the environment yet not always more attractive to live in. Rather, there is a need to incorporate the history, culture and architecture of each place, thus preserving its original identity.”
A proper ecology, instead of wiping the slate clean, “involves protecting the cultural treasures of humanity in the broadest sense. More specifically, it calls for greater attention to local cultures when studying environmental problems, favouring a dialogue between scientific-technical language and the language of the people. Culture is more than what we have inherited from the past; it is also, and above all, a living, dynamic and participatory present reality, which cannot be excluded as we rethink the relationship between human beings and the environment.”
Pope Francis even went so far as to write, “The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal. The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems.”
We must remember that creation includes the human person and the cultural history that we have all inherited. Pope Francis exhorts artists to be good stewards both of creation and of culture.
As we contemplate different ways we can respond to Pope Francis’ prayer intention for August, we should keep in mind the preservation of culture.