This morning in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall, the Holy Father received 7,000 students who are participating in a meeting promoted by the association for young Catholic environmentalists, 'Sorella natura'.
During his address he said: "Dear young people, it is for your sake that I wished this meeting to take place, and I want to tell you how much I appreciate your decision to become 'guardians of the creation'".
"We must first remember that your Foundation, indeed this meeting itself, have a deep Franciscan inspiration.
"Even the date has been chosen to recall the proclamation of St Francis of Assisi as patron of the environment by my beloved predecessor John Paul II in 1979".
"St Francis, faithful to Holy Scripture, invites us to recognise that nature is like a marvellous book speaking to us of God, of His beauty and goodness. Francis used to ask the friar who tended the convent garden ... to leave space for a rich flowerbed so that passers-by would raise their thoughts to God, Creator of such beauty".
"Dear friends the Church, while appreciating the most important scientific research and discoveries, has never ceased to remind people that by respecting the mark of the Creator in all creation, we achieve a better understanding of our true and profound human identity. ... If, in fact, human activity forgets to collaborate with God, it can do violence to the creation and cause damage which always has negative consequences, also for mankind. ... Today more than ever it is clear that respect for the environment cannot overlook recognition for the importance and inviolability of human beings, at every stage of life and in every condition. Respect for the human being and respect for nature are the same thing, they grow and find their just measure if we respect the Creator and His creation, both in the human creature and in nature".
"I would now like to address teachers and representatives from the public authorities, ... highlighting the great importance education has in environmental questions. ... It is now clear that humankind has no productive future on earth if we do not educate everyone to be responsible for the creation, This is first learnt in the family and in school, and for this reason I encourage parents and teachers to continue educating people to that end.
"Furthermore it is indispensable that the efforts made by families and schools find support in the relevant institutions".
"May St Francis teach us to sing, with all creation, a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to our heavenly Father, giver of all gifts".
For more information on Sorella Natura, see: www.sorellanatura.org/