“Nothing in this world is indifferent to us”
(Pope Francis, Laudato Sí)
To: Priests, religious, laypeople and every person
In recent days, we have witnessed the heartbreaking disaster of pollution of the marine environment as never before. Hundreds of tons of dead fish were washed ashore in the coast of Central Vietnam. Shrimps, clams, shells, birds, mangrove forests were found in sudden mass death, and the ecosystem in the continental shelf were destroyed. Millions of fishermen, people living by aquaculture and salt production, seafood traders, people in the catering and tourism business… suddenly fell into unemployment and became helpless due to the occupations they live by were completely turned upside-down. Panic, impoverishment and fury are the miseries they are suffering from.
Currently, although the authorities have yet to announce an official conclusion, many people believe that toxic waste containing heavy metals from industrial areas is the very cause of the disaster. If really so, this environmental disaster has long-term enormous dangers. Sure enough, it takes many decades for the ecosystem in the continental shelf of Central Vietnam to be recovered. In terms of economics, despite no specific statistics, many people think that the damages caused by this environmental disaster much far exceed the profits that an industrial park can bring.
The consequences of heavy metal contamination on human health are even worse. These toxins will exist long time in the seabed. Sea water and gulf stream will dilute the toxins to not being lethal to marine life instantly, but these creatures will be subject to long-term effects by way of absorbing toxins from the food chain. When humans consume seafood, fish sauce, poisoning salt, the toxins will infiltrate and accumulate in the human body. At a certain point of time when the toxin content exceeds the allowable level, it will cause diseases such as cancer, brain damage… and may cause deformities and birth defects for generations to come.
Although the extent of the catastrophe risk is so great and over a month has passed by, the authorities still avoid disclosing the causes and the culprit of this tragedy. Besides, some persons even encourage the people to consume seafood, lacking any scientific basis. Meanwhile, it is hard to understand why the authorities seriously repress the peaceful protesters who do nothing but demand the return of a clean environment for the people.
Facing this tragedy, what attitude must we take?
The Sacred Second Vatican Council teaches, “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts” (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 1).
Therefore, we cannot remain indifferent to the disaster of environmental pollution which not only is destroying the sea areas in Central Vietnam but also causes a long-term disaster to the whole nation. Indeed, we are facing an extremely important issue, not only related to each of us, but also involving many generations. We can say that the sea is crying bitterly because of forcible suicide and all the people and all things are seriously affected by this disaster. We should know that destruction of the environment and putrefaction of water sources, land and air by toxins is a sin and those so doing will suffer the consequences. For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God” (Pope Francis, Laudato Sí, 8).
According to the teaching of the Holy Father Francis, we cannot tolerate any attitude of insensitivity and irresponsibility toward the environment. At the same time, we have the right to ask others that, while seeking to meet the needs of the present generation, they must refrain from doing harm to the future generations. We have the right to request the authorities to create a consistent and effective legal system to protect the environment. Do not allow those who abuse power to base on technic-economic models to sabotage the country, freedom and social justice (cf. Pope Francis, Laudato Sí, 53 and 59).
Therefore, Brothers and Sisters, I earnestly invite you to express their Christian identity, behave responsibly to the motherland and the future generations, at the same sharing in, and being in communion with, those who are current victims of the disaster of environmental pollution with the following specific acts:
- Be willing to give up a consumerist lifestyle of environmental disregard, and determined not to process and produce “dirty food” causing destruction of health, damage to the lives of our fellow citizens; abandon the path of economic development not only unsustainable but also destructive to the environment;
- Helping our brothers and sisters who are victims of this disaster through visits, emotional motivation, and material aid;
- Actively destroy and bury, as safely as possible, dead sea creatures to prevent toxic emissions; do not possess and trade seafood and processed seafood already contaminated or suspected to be contaminated;
- Cooperate with individuals and organizations of good will to find out the cause of the disaster, at the same time making efforts to find measures to overcome this disaster;
- Exercise the citizen’s rights recognized by the Constitution and laws of Vietnam and the International Conventions; peacefully express the right to ask for transparency in the governance of the country and the handling of the disaster and compel those who have caused such disaster to be properly tried by justice.
In particular, Brothers and Sisters, I earnestly invite you to pray for the environmental protection, defend the truth and the right to live in a healthy, harmonious and sustainable environment. Later on, our children may ask: At the time the country was in danger or the East Sea was polluted, what did you do to save the sea and save us, grandparents and parents? Believing in the promise of Our Lady of Fatima, I urge everybody to pray the Rosary diligently, so that through the intercession of Our Lady, we not only courageously protect our motherland but also leave no consequences to the future generations.
May God bless and give peace to everyone in our beloved Vietnam.
In celebration of the 99th anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady at Fatima,
Xa Doai, 13 May 2016
BISHOP OF VINH DIOCESE
Paul Nguyen Thai Hop
Translated by Paul Tam