Interview With Roberto Leoni of the Sister Nature Foundation


ROME, AUGUST 20, 2004 ( ‑ Amid catastrophic and at times contradictory ecological views, the model of St. Francis of Assisi is emerging today as an authentic guide for a wise ecology.


For this reason, the Sister Nature Foundation has printed for the first time, after eight centuries, the facsimile of Manuscript 338, which includes the oldest Franciscan sources, the writings of the saint, and the first redaction of his "Canticles of Creatures."


To better understand what St. Francis might say today to those who struggle to protect and respect nature, ZENIT interviewed Roberto Leoni, President of the Foundation.


Q: What does St. Francis have to say to an ecologist?


Leoni: The Sister Nature Foundation came into being as an association in 1991, receiving on September 12 of that year the encouragement of John Paul II. The objective was to contribute to the development of a correct culture of the environment, based on the Christian teaching of St. Francis of Assisi.


On one hand, it was realized that Christians were not very present in this field; on the other, it was seen that the environmental question was monopolized by catastrophic ideological and emotive approaches, scientifically incorrect and ethically disoriented.


How is it possible to defend the environment and, consequently, life, and to be in favour of abortion? How can biodiversity and native species be protected while favouring a couple's external artificial fertilization?


In 2001, after a decade in which we published documents such as the "Decalogue of a Wise Ecology" and the "Deontological Letter of Sustainable Development," we became a foundation. Since then we have deepened our reflection on the relation between the economy and development, discovering as "a priori synthesis" the economy of solidarity.


We addressed this issue in important meetings, with the participation of, among others, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, and Antonio Fazio, Director of the Central Bank of Italy.


Q: Now you are publishing a facsimile of the Canticle of Creatures. How does this relate to an ecology foundation?


Leoni: We think that it is an orientation text for the whole of humanity.


We have always been committed to publishing it and making it known. The first redaction of the Canticle is in Manuscript 338, which includes the oldest Franciscan sources. In eight centuries, this manuscript has only been seen, read and studied by a few scholars.


Because of this, the Sister Nature Foundation has printed, for the first time in history, the facsimile of the whole of Manuscript 338. Nine hundred and fifty numbered copies have been printed, which are now available to all.


Manuscript 338 is not only the root of that which is Franciscan, but also a wise ecology, of which the world is in urgent need. The world will not explode, as a well‑known alarmist says, but men will explode, because they forget from where they came and where they are going.


Q: And yet, some radical currents say they are inspired by St. Francis. What are the saint's lessons for life?


Leoni: St. Francis of Assisi's merits are immense. I will summarize them metaphorically in the account of the institution of Greccio's Nativity, which has come to us in the "Major" Legend, which states that, before making the representation of the Nativity, the friar asked the Pope's permission so that the gesture would not appear as a "desire for novelty."


In this expression one finds the whole immensity of Francis: innovator in depth and not in superficiality; totally faithful to Christ and his Church.


Since the Middle Ages, his teachings have always run the risk of being distorted, from the pauperism of some friars to the confusion which has been created more recently between the teaching of Francis and politics.


The only flag that St. Francis followed was the cross of Christ. St. Francis guides us, even in one of the most complicated modern challenges: that of the relationship with other religions, in particular with Islam.


He did not launch a crusade, but went to dialogue with the Sultan; he dialogued because he had a strong and unbreakable Christian identity. He went to see the Sultan to understand and to take the Good News.


Q: According to you, what are the concepts that characterize the Christian view of the environment?


Leoni: Unfortunately, parts of the ideological currents have an ideological and political character; others have an emotive origin, a sort of superficial and contradictory innocence.


The contrast between a good nature and man who ruins everything does not correspond to reality. Nature, described always on the edge of catastrophe, is an exaggeration.


St. Francis teaches us that nature has been created, that man must be an affectionate and attentive custodian of creatures, as they are his brothers and sisters, in praising the Lord.


The Christian knows that original sin has distorted man and for this reason he must pay special attention to safeguard nature, with affectionate attention, preserving and correcting it in order to transmit it to his children.


In this connection, the Christian is based on the most ancient and modern wisdom, on ethics, science and technology, without rejecting anything a priori, but always making careful evaluations of compatibility.


The Christian has always been committed, but today more than ever, to the construction of an economy of solidarity, the only one that can guarantee sustainable development. We must go beyond capitalism and collectivism, alarmism and the blind abuse of resources.


We can do so by recovering the values of temperance, the capacity to share, to sacrifice and to mortify ourselves. I am not suggesting that we return to the hair shirt and go hungry. But if we lowered our radiators by 2 degrees and raised the air‑conditioner by 2 degrees, we would resolve many problems with those savings.


If the ethical obligations we propose were adopted in finance, as well as instruments of concrete ethical finance, an economy of solidarity would be initiated.


What I am saying is not utopian. If anything, it is Franciscan madness: the madness of all Christians who, converted day by day, want to apply the teachings of Jesus, each one where he can and in what he knows.