During a week when the world learned that yet again a massive slaughter of elephants has taken place, this time of 89 elephants in Chad, many of which aborted upon being shot, I am struck by this video from ABC World News, which takes us inside the Apostolic Palace that Pope Francis I now calls home.
The video is a composite of tours given during the papacy of Popes John Paul and Benedict XVI. At minute 1:15 we see what appears to be an ivory crucifix on the desk of Pope Benedict and at 1:53 we see two large elephant tusks on the back wall of a conference room.
At the same time elephants were being killed in Chad last week, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) was wrapping up a global meeting in Bangkok, Thailand. Perhaps the most moving speech of the CITES conference was delivered by Sean Willmore, President of the International Ranger Federation, who spoke of the thousands of rangers who’ve lost their lives protecting wildlife and of the families many have left behind. It was a speech that brought representatives from around the world to the edge of tears.
Spiritual leaders have begun to recognize the cost in human lives and morals of the ivory trade. The Society of Conservation Biology is leading such an initiative. Others are, too. During the CITES meeting, the World Wildlife Fund convened a number of prominent Thai Buddhist monks who called for an end to ivory’s use by their followers.
Last month I did an interview on the ivory trade with Vatican Radio. That show has yet to air. It’s impact will be insignificant, however, next to the possibility for elephants and for those who protect them of a Pope who asks himself the simple question: What would St. Francis do?
In a letter to National Geographic posted on this blog after letters from readers of Ivory Worship poured into the Holy See, Vatican spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi wrote, “I have never heard or even read a word that would encourage the use of ivory for devotional objects.” But when it comes to religion it is the witnessed as well as the read, the believed as well as the heard, that makes all the difference for life.
What message will the new Pope send to the spiritually minded around the world?
In his letter to National Geographic Father Lombardi also wrote: “I believe that the most important and most urgent action is that of raising the awareness of the Christian communities in the countries affected by the most serious phenomena so that they might act together with those in charge and with the other members of the civil communities in which they live in order to deal decisively with these very serious problems. This must be done, if possible, in collaboration between the followers of different Christian confessions or other religions.
“In fact,” he added, “it is a serious problem that Christians can and should unite against….”