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Something new is in the air
The conclave that elected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio made all the bells ring in the media quarters around the world: over 5 000 journalists went to Rome to cover an event that, from the start, since the retirement of Benedict XVI, was felt as unique, and Pope Francis exceeded by far the crowds’ expectations: the first Jesuit, the first Latin American, the first in history to have in his inaugural Mass the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople. The Argentinean kept them under his spell from the beginning, with his humble and simple style, so much so, that when Francis went to the press room to thank them for their work—he blessed them in silence, to respect the creed of each or the lack of it—he was received with a standing ovation. The media coverage was so positive, that at once Catholics all over the world understood: something new is in the air, like during the Second Vatican Council—and hope grew, at once, in many hearts.
CHALLENGES—NOAH AND THE FLOOD
The call to build our own Arks
Today, perhaps more than ever, the earth and life are threatened by new and increasingly frightening ‘floods’, due to a perverse manipulation of creation. But God is calling: be like Noah! Make your heart an Ark to host and nurture life, and from there send forth the dove of peace!
Fr Manuel João P. Correia
The story of the flood, Noah and his Ark is one of the most popular of the Bible. Is it a legend from the mists of time or a fact that really occurred—probably an extrapolation at a universal level of a local event? In any case, it is a biblical text with a rich message, an episode that continues to nourish the imagination of children, and a particularly significant image in the current time of ecological destruction. At the same time, it is a theme dear to researchers and the Indiana Jones type of adventurers who periodically embark on costly explorations in search of Noah’s Ark. Occasionally, the discovery of the hypothetical Ark makes newspaper headlines somewhere at the top of Mount Ararat in Turkey, or in the dark depths of the Black Sea. Evan almighty by Tom Shadyac (2007), one of the most expensive comedies in film history, is a modern-day version of the story of Noah’s Ark.
There is no shortage of modern ‘Noahs’ such as a Dutch entrepreneur, who after dreaming of the Netherlands submerged by water, built an exact replica of the famous biblical vessel. Although it hasn’t served during a flood emergency, it became a tourist attraction, with a small zoo inside for the delight of children (otherwise what kind of Noah’s Ark would it be?). On the other side of the world, in Hong Kong, another businessman built a hotel that reproduced Noah’s Ark with the dimensions described in the Bible. Needless to say, both businessmen benefited from the ‘flood’ of money generated by the enterprise!
Still under construction
In reality, Noah and his Ark is a story that speaks of us and our times! In fact, Jesus uses that episode as a paradigm of His time: “For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be [also] at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24: 37–39).
When Noah left the Ark, God promised solemnly, as the rainbow in the sky witnessed, that humanity would never be destroyed again: “This is for me like the days of Noah: as I swore then that the waters of Noah should never again flood the earth, so I have sworn now not to be angry with you, or to rebuke you” (Isaiah 54: 9). But the risk nowadays is that man himself will destroy the earth.
Evil had wrought chaos on earth, forcing God to recreate the world. But the threat of another disaster did not cease with the end of the great flood. God notes that “the desires of the human heart are evil from youth” (Genesis 8: 21). To redeem humankind from the tsunami of sin, God sent Christ as the new Noah who, with the wood of the cross, built the new Ark, the Church. Through the word of his envoys, He invites everyone to find refuge in it.
Noah toiled for a 100 years to build the Ark, but no-one wondered why he did it. The inhabitants of Nineveh took only three days to realise the approach of danger. For us, it takes over one hundred years, comments St Augustine: “If we calculate the years from when Christ began to cut from the forests that were the pagan peoples, the trees ... to build our Ark, the Church, it turns out that there are more than one hundred, two hundred, three hundred, and more. Yes, really, many years have passed and the Ark is still under construction; Noah cries, the construction screams too. Nothing but unbelief can send men to their doom!” (Speech 114/B).
Threatened by many floods
Today, perhaps more than ever, the earth and life are threatened by new and increasingly frightening ‘floods’ due to a perverse manipulation of the creation that God has entrusted to us. The magnitude of such eventual disasters is increasing, and they threaten to drag into the avalanche everything and everyone—and it is not only natural disasters or the atom bomb.
Due to the change of the ecosystem, pollution, anarchic development and so on, it is estimated that tens of thousands of animal and plant species are at risk of extinction. An extinction that happens 1 000 times faster than in the past, endangering biodiversity—with enormous and disastrous consequences. Such impoverishment entails, among other things, an increase of pathological agents responsible for the appearance of various diseases.
Today, there’s much talk (and little action, unfortunately!) on the subject of the global warming of the planet, due to the greenhouse effect, caused mainly by emissions of carbon dioxide from our industrialisation and irresponsible progress that throw into the atmosphere each year, 27 billion tonnes, that is 50 000 tonnes per minute.
In recent years, the annual loss of the forest area was 52 000 km2, that is almost three times the extent of the Gauteng region in South Africa. In addition, the insistence on the growing of monocultures impoverishes the planet’s floral diversity. Two examples: since the beginning of the last century, from the 287 varieties of carrots which then existed we remain with only 21; from about 500 varieties of lettuce just 36 are left.
But it is not only a question of plants and animals that are in danger of extinction: about 300 million people are threatened with extinction, such as the Pygmies, the Bushmen, the Indians of America, the Aborigine—about 5 000 indigenous communities in 75 countries, that constitute 90% of the cultural and linguistic diversity of the planet. The anthropological ecology is at risk, threatened by homologation brought about by modernity and linguistic imperialism. It is said that at least 3 000 languages of the 6 000–7 000 currently existing—some even speak of 90%—will disappear by 2100. The death of a language is equivalent to the death of a way of life, a cultural system; it is, undoubtedly, a world heritage impoverishment!
Looking for new Noahs
The root cause of these ‘floods’ that threaten the future of humankind are triggered by selfishness, interest and greed. An eloquent example is the global economic crisis of the last few years which is decimating entire populations. It is due to unscrupulous speculation. Pundits say that the world’s real wealth (gross domestic product) is US$ 60 000 billion, while the nominal (speculative, fictitious!) product on paper, is ten times bigger!
The earth is an ark, navigating in the infinite universe, created by God to welcome life. Because life is fragile from its conception, it needs an ‘ark’ to protect it and provide the necessary conditions for its growth—especially human life. Welcomed in the ‘ark’ that is the mother’s womb, human life continues in the family and society. Life needs a suitable nurturing system: love!
Before the menacing growth of the flooding waves of selfishness that threaten to overwhelm our society, each one of us is called to be a Noah—to build an ark within oneself, in one’s own heart, to welcome and protect life in all its forms.
According to the Hebrew tradition, the flood is a figure of Messianic times, when the prophecy of Isaiah (11: 6–9) will be fulfilled: “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall graze, together their young shall lie down; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the viper’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. They shall not harm or destroy on all My holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.” (that is, the earth will be flooded by messianic grace!), precisely what happened in Noah’s Ark.
It is not a coincidence that the time spent in the Ark lasted for about nine months, the time of gestation of a child, a new human life. There is talk of waters, opening of the Ark—as a woman’s water breaks when giving birth—and the appearance of a new humanity.
Today, there’s often the temptation of making our hearts a fortress, or an impenetrable bunker, impervious to the destruction of the environment and humankind. Be like Noah! Make your heart an Ark to host and nurture life, and from there send forth the dove of peace!
“About 300 million people are threatened with extinction, such as the Pygmies, the Bushmen, the Indians of America and the Aborigine.”
“The root cause of these ‘floods’ that threaten the future of humankind are triggered by selfishness, interest and greed.”
“Each one of us is called to be a Noah—to build an ark within oneself, in one’s own heart, to welcome and protect life in all its forms.”
SPECIALS AND SELECTED TEXTS
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From a tender age, St Daniel Comboni was introduced to the mystery of the Heart of Jesus. In his years of formation, he was enchanted with a beautiful painting of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary in the seminary chapel
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