Pope Benedict, leading the Catholic Church’s first “eco-friendly” youth rally, on Sunday told up to half a million people that world leaders must make courageous decisions to save the planet “before it is too late.”
“A decisive ’yes’ is needed in decisions to safeguard creation as well as a strong commitment to reverse tendencies that risk leading to irreversible situations of degradation,” the 80-year old Pope said in his homily.
Intentionally wearing green vestments, he spoke to a vast crowd of mostly young people sprawled over a massive hillside near the Adriatic city of Loreto on the day Italy’s Catholic Church marks it annual Save Creation Day.
More than 300,000 of them had slept on blankets and in tents or prayed during the night. Organizers said they were joined by some 200,000 more people who arrived from throughout Italy on Sunday morning.
“New generations will be entrusted with the future of the planet, which bears clear signs of a type of development that has not always protected nature’s delicate equilibriums,” the Pope said, speaking to the crowd from a massive white stage.
'Alliance between man and earth'
Making one of his strongest environmental appeals to date Benedict said: “Courageous choices that can re-create a strong alliance between man and earth must be made before it is too late.”
The two-day rally the Pope closed with a Sunday morning mass was the first environmentally friendly youth rally, a break from past gatherings that left tonnes of garbage and scars on the earth.
A participants’ kit included backpacks made of recyclable material, a flashlight operated by a crank instead of batteries, and color-coded trash bags so their personal garbage could be easily recycled. Meals were served on biodegradable plates.
Tens of thousands of prayer books for Sunday’s mass were printed on recycled paper and an adequate number of trees would be planted to compensate for the carbon produced at the event, many in areas of southern Italy devastated by recent brushfires.
Under Benedict and his predecessor John Paul, the Vatican has become progressively “green.” It has installed photovoltaic cells on buildings to produce electricity and hosted a scientific conference to discuss the ramifications of global warming and climate change.
Last month Benedict said the human race must listen to “the voice of the Earth” or risk destroying its very existence.
Loreto is famous in the Catholic world for the “holy house of the Madonna” a small stone structure purported to be where Mary grew up in the Holy Land and where she was told by an angel she would give birth to Jesus although a virgin.
According to popular legend, it was “flown” by angels from the Holy Land in the 13th century to save it from Muslim armies.
Modern scholars have said parts of the walls may have been brought in pieces from the Middle East by defeated Crusaders or that the entire structure may have been built on the site where it now stands in order to draw pilgrims to the city.