WE ARE in the midst of the Season of Creation, a special period of prayer and reflection which the Catholic Church observes from 1 September to 4 October each year.
This year the Holy Father has indicated that he will publish a new letter on care for Creation at the end of the season, following up what he wrote in his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’. Back then Pope Francis wrote this about pollution in cities: ‘The quality of life in cities has much to do with systems of transport, which are often a source of much suffering for those who use them. Many cars, used by one or more people, circulate in cities, causing traffic congestion, raising the level of pollution, and consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy. This makes it necessary to build more roads and parking areas which spoil the urban landscape. Many specialists agree on the need to give priority to public transportation.’ (Section 153)
This might well be the first time that pollution from cars was referred to in a papal encyclical: for some people it was one of many things they didn’t like about the pope’s letter. So many people don’t want religious faith, or religious leaders like the pope, to become involved in issues of everyday life: far easier to see religion as a means of escaping from life’s problems.
A distant God is much easier to believe in. The season is the best possible time, therefore, to take account of the recent extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone to Greater London; moreover Catholics, because of what our Church teaches, are the best placed of all citizens to take account of it as well. The pollution caused by car use, especially in cities, is to do with our religious faith. This means at the very least that we need to heed the evidence about how much damage is done by pollution to people’s health, particularly the health of children or people with conditions like asthma. There are many sources of evidence and places where people can get support – a good one would be the asthma support available through NHS London. As with everything else connected with the damage we are doing to our planet, the issues are urgent: they demand critical self-reflection, changes in lifestyle and sacrifices.
Now I know that the extension of ULEZ to outer London boroughs like Bromley raises real challenges for people or institutions (such as our parish school) which have non-compliant vehicles. Central and local government need to fund the transition which we need to make. There are different ways in which cities can reduce the pollution caused by vehicles. But for Catholics the key thing is take the issue seriously and, as in other areas, sometimes say things which people don’t want to hear. It is essential that we are guided by Church teaching and not by tabloid press campaigns.