One body breathing one air

Published September 1, 2008

“We treat the environment as an object and see nature as a thing that needs to be saved.”

Faith groups need to “dismantle the culture of fear that discourages civic encounters,” says Rev. Giorgio Di Cicco, poet laureate of Toronto. The Roman Catholic priest believes that the environment can only be saved if people care about each other and surrender to the common good.

“We tend to treat the environment as an object and see nature as a thing that needs to be saved … But as (environmentalist) David Suzuki says, ‘We are one body that breathes one air.’ Like it or not, we are dependent on each other,” said Mr. Di Cicco. “Until we see each other as one body, we can’t save the environment. We need to save each other first.” This may sound like “fluff,” he said, but the reality is, “If you don’t know how to act with people, you don’t know how to act with nature. If you are selfish with people, you’re mindless with what kills people.”

Mr. Di Cicco, who has authored some 20 volumes of poetry and a book of manifestos on creative cities, spoke about “The ecology of heart” at a forum on Greening Sacred Spaces sponsored in the spring in Toronto by Faith and the Common Good, a national group that encourages inter-faith action on social and environmental concerns.

People who advocate for the environment miss their mark when they simply talk about sustainability that is “not fed by eros (love),” said Mr. Di Cicco. He added: “They’re always just scare tactics and sentimental allusions (about saving the environment) for future generations. The motive should be a deep love for the air (that) we breathe and moves through us, and our love for each other.”

He lamented that globalization has resulted in a lack of inter-civic interaction. “The global citizen is hungry for the empathic touch of others. What’s wanting in sustainability? Reverence and consequent care for each other that comes from a keen sense of the sacred,” he said.

Today’s society is one of “manufactured selfishness” disguising as efficiency, Mr. Di Cicco said. He noted how “the government knows more about us than our neighbours do,” and how laws are designed to discourage interaction between people. He cited a town he frequents near Toronto which has a little plaza, a traditional place for local folks to meet and talk, which has been plastered with “No loitering” signs. “We are pretty lonely people,” he said.

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada, also spoke at the conference and touched on issues of leadership, politics and faith.

Ms. May, an Anglican and a student of theology, disagreed with the popular description of Canada as being a secular society. “We are not a secular society. What we have is econotheism, which celebrates selfish individualism,” she said.

Ms. May challenged the 200 people who attended the conference to vote and become more engaged in society’s affairs. “Imagine what’s at stake if you don’t,” she said.

She also lamented that religion is being “demonized” in the media, when at its core, it is “about being altruistic, connecting for the common good.”

Representatives of Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other faith groups at the conference also attended workshops, including some on how to have healthy and “green” buildings; energy conservation; and sacred spaces for contemporary worship.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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