The Vatican – Pope Francis received a commission of Cambodian Buddhist monks last 19th January 2023 at the Vatican, in a meeting that was attended also by Mgr. Olivier Schmitthaeusler, Apostolic Vicar of Phnom Penh. The meeting between the highest religious leader of the Roman Catholic Church and the Buddhist monks of the Southeast Asian kingdom was entitled Ecological Conversion by the Vatican Media.

“I offer a warm welcome to your delegation, dear Buddhist friends, as well as to the representatives of civil society from Cambodia, and to Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler, Apostolic Vicar of Phnom Penh,” said Pope Francis and he continued: “I am grateful for this visit, which seeks to consolidate your enduring friendship as religious leaders working to enhance interreligious cooperation, an important element of society which enables people to live peacefully as brothers and sisters, reconciled among themselves and to the environment in which they live.”

Pope Francis underlined the threats that our Planet and our human family are facing and praised the Buddhist monks of Cambodia for “choosing Ecological Conversation” as a sensible way to protect our Common Home, that is the way to refer to Planet Earth, the place where all humanity lives beyond borders. “Inspired by your religious beliefs and spiritual traditions, you can offer to your noble country on its path to social healing and economic reconstruction,” the Pope noted.

“Dialogue unveils the profound richness that our respective religious traditions offer in sustaining efforts to cultivate ecological responsibility,” he said. The Pope noted the principles that Buddha “left as a legacy to his disciples (Pratimoksa), including the practices of metta, which involves not harming living things (cf. Metta Sutta sn 1.8), and living a simple lifestyle, Buddhists can achieve a compassionate protection for all beings, including the earth, their habitat.” Also for Christians, the religious leader noted, ” For their part, Christians “fulfill their ecological responsibility when, as trustworthy stewards, they protect Creation, the work God has entrusted to them “to till and to keep” (Gen 2:15; cf. Laudato Si’, 95; 217).”

Cambodia is mostly a Buddhist country within the teachings of Theravada, although it includes ancient elements of Brahmanism coming from the Indianization era in the history of the Cambodian nation during the first centuries A.C. It is also the territory of ancient forests and uncountable species of plants and animals, many of them endemic to the Southeast Asian region, belonging to the raining jungles of the tropics. Pope Francis, who chose the name of the Catholic Patron of environment and ecumenism, Saint Francis of Assisi, has brought a message of unity, peace and dialog with several religious leaders from around the world. In his encyclic Laudation si (On care for our common home, 24 May 2015), Pope Francis called on humanity to ensure a global actions to protect our Planet, including the fight on poverty, conflicts and a deep conversation of our styles of lives that are affecting the global environment.

The spirit of Laudatio si is not far from the principles of Buddhism. As Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said: “Buddhists believe that the reality of the interconnectedness of human beings, society and Nature will reveal itself more and more to us as we gradually recover—as we gradually cease to be possessed by anxiety, fear, and the dispersion of the mind. Among the three—human beings, society, and Nature—it is us who begin to effect change. But in order to effect change we must recover ourselves, one must be whole. Since this requires the kind of environment favorable to one’s healing, one must seek the kind of lifestyle that is free from the destruction of one’s humanness. Efforts to change the environment and to change oneself are both necessary. But we know how difficult it is to change the environment if individuals themselves are not in a state of equilibrium.” (Buddhist Faith Statement on the Environment.)

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