TERRA MATER. From the eighth centennial of the birth of St. Francis of Assisi (1982) to the eighth centennial of his conversion (2007).

Within the celebrations for the eighth centennial of St. Francis’ birth, environmental associations, Franciscan Orders and the local authorities of Umbria organized the international Seminar “TERRA MATER” (Gubbio, September 23-26, 1982), on the relationship between men and the environment.
The result of the workshop, “THE GUBBIO CHARTER 1982”, was presented in the City Hall of Gubbio, at the presence of Cardinal Silvio Oddi, the Postulator of the cause for the proclamation of St. Francis Patron of ecologists, and of Fr. John Waughn, O.F.M., the President of the Conference of Ministers General of the Franciscan Orders.
The extraordinariness of this event was at once caught by commentators, who considered the unusual alliance between secular and religious groups a “historical turning point”: the fusion of “rationalistic naturalism” and “mystique of nature” in the “Charter”, “promotes a new culture focused on the respect for our mother earth “, Alfredo Vinciguerra said.
On October 3, at the conclusion of the Franciscan centennial, John Paul II sent his “special regards to the participants… at “Terra Mater” Seminar, held in Gubbio”. “It is necessary and urgent that, following the example of the Poor Man of Assisi, men abandon any inconsiderate form of dominating all creatures”, warned the Pope, who concluded his message with an encouragement and blessing to those who are trying to guide people to consider and treat animals, plants, and minerals like “brothers” and “sisters”, according to St. Francis’ thoughts.
The enforcement of ethical principles to the relationship between man and nature, peculiar to “The Gubbio Charter”, found its most authoritative and longed for support in the words of John Paul II. The Pope’s speech, unexpected by a great deal of people, renewed the interest for the”Charter”, which became the topic of deep analysis on newspapers and magazines, radio and television programmes as well as the theme for Italian and international conferences.
The large approval achieved by “Terra Mater” and the future intentions of the Seminar promoters were confirmed by Giorgio Luciani, the President of Italia Nostra, in his speech at the symposium on “Franciscan Values”, promoted in Amsterdam by the Italian Institute of Culture for the Netherlands, on December 2-3, 1982: “The proclamation of “The Gubbio Charter” was welcomed with great interest. It is significant to remember the quotation made by the Holy Father in his usual Sunday discourse in St. Peter’s Square; the vast echo that it had in the national and international press; the continuous letters asking for information and offering support from associations, local authorities and people interested in these problems. But the proclamation of “The Gubbio Charter” was only the starting point of a broader activity, which is going to involve us in the near future, aiming at spreading it all over the world, by organizing a great deal of meetings and debates and trying to achieve a large amount of adhesions, especially among religious families of every belief and non-governmental organizations, in order to give the “Charter” a universal and ecumenical value”.
At the end of 1982, an important sign of appreciation came from the political world with the motion presented to the European Parliament to assume ‘The Gubbio Charter” – “based on the principles of balance, respect and solidarity” – as the foundation of the European environmental policy.
A further contribution to the enhancement of the “Terra Mater” action was also given by the Accademia dei Lincei, which, on 6 June 1983 in Rome, celebrated the World Environment Day with a symposium centered on the report of Professor Antonio Moroni entitled “A pact with the earth: The Gubbio Charter”.
“… in the austere and stimulating frame of Gubbio – remembered Professor Moroni – about forty researchers in the sciences of nature, ecologists, theologians, philosophers, economists, representatives of scientific societies, human sciences, and ecological movements, coming from different countries, have completed a rereading of St. Francis’ message, according to the present environmental situation, in order to provide stimuli and proposals to elaborate a project that is generally considered to be necessary and urgent for man’s environment”.
Giving the contribution of Federnatura, Italia Nostra and WWF-Italia to the meeting, Fabrizio Giovenale affirmed: “Antonio Moroni has just remembered an initiative that has actively involved us: “The Gubbio Charter”. Well, for all national and international representations that have contributed to formulate it, the features of its contents, the multiplicity and scope of its means of spreading and reverberation, there is no doubt that this fact has a strong political relevance”.
Between 9 and 15 October 1983, “The Gubbio Charter” represented the main document of reference for teachers of all level schools, attending the national refresher course on “Environmental education in connection to protection laws and international bills: European experiences in comparison”, organized at Loreto by Italia Nostra and the Ministry of Education.
In April 1985, the desire to let the principles of “Terra Mater” penetrate ever more deeply into reality urged Italia Nostra to give new strength to its Committee, which was enlarged with new members, among which the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) was the most remarkable.
The first initiative was directed to political institutions. With the cooperation of the Italian Minister of Ecology, Alfredo Biondi, “The Gubbio Charter” was delivered to all the Environment Ministers of the E. C., at a meeting in the end of June of the same year, in Milan.
A few days later, on July 8, mentioning the recommendations of “The Gubbio Charter”, an appeal was sent to the leaders of major religions, so that they could promote actions to face the serious risks that mankind and the whole biosphere are running because of environmental degradation.
With a clear reference to “Terra Mater”, within the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of its foundation, the WWF International organized a meeting, between 25 and 27 September 1986, in Assisi, where representatives of the major world religions were invited. In his speech of welcome to the participants in the inter-religious ceremony in the Basilica of St. Francis, the Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor Conventuals, Fr. Lanfranco Serrini, remembered: “In 1982 the Franciscans and various environmental organizations, includig the WWF, formulated the Gubbio Declaration on nature. In this we asked ‘that leaders of every confession [should] bring to the attention of their members …the moral right and duty to respect both the natural and human environment’. This is what we intended to do here during our inter-religious service”.
Also the opening speech of the Mayor of Assisi Pietro Profumi at the international Congress on conservation – parallel to the inter-religious meeting – mentioned “Terra Mater”: “I cannot close my short speech without reminding you that on September 23-26, 1982, at the 8th centennial of St. Francis’ birth, in the nearby town of Gubbio, WWF, the Franciscan Orders, Italia Nostra, other corporations, scientists and experts broadly treated the same problems in a Seminar whose symbolical and extraordinarily meaningful title was “Terra Mater”. Rereading the conclusive document of that Seminar, known as “The Gubbio Charter”, I think that, from this opening Congress, we should reaffirm, with the vastest resonance, the most believable will and the maximum authoritativeness, the commitment to promote the respect for nature and people, communities and cultures, to apply the principles of ethics to the relationship with all living creatures, to refuse every form of physical violence against nature and men, to recognize that the conservation of natural and human environment represents the essential base for a correct development (…) hoping that, also in the name of St. Francis, brother of all creatures, this undertaking is to be universally welcomed and applied”.
As if to endorse the link between WWF and “Terra Mater”, an English version of “The Gubbio Charter”, was officially delivered to the WWF international President, Philip of Edinburgh.
The spirit of “The Gubbio Charter” was in the air at Assisi even on the day of the prayer promoted by John Paul II on October 27, 1986. Expressing the auspice that in the ecumenical prayer for peace among all men, reconciliation between men and all other creatures was not going to be forgotten, Nazareno Fabbretti , in the imminence of the great assembly, underlined that, at Gubbio in 1982, the world conference “Terra Mater” recognized in Francis of Assisi a point of reference for contemporary ecology, capable of defeating every pessimism.
The disaster of Chernobyl, tragic evidence of the dangers that threaten the environment and human race, induced Italia Nostra to relaunch “The Gubbio Charter” (October 1986’s issue of its Bulletin) as “the last appeal to reasonableness “, which unfortunately had not yet been transformed into action by those who were responsible for the world’s fate.
The European Year of the Environment (1987) offered “Terra Mater” the opportunity to organize its second international Seminar on the theme “Toward the Third Millennium: what kind of progress?”, which had the aim to define a new model of friendlier and further-sighted development in the respect of nature and man (Gubbio, September, 23-27).
On that occasion several exponents of environmentalism, economics, politics, science and representatives of the main religious confessions, such as Tibetan and Zen Buddhism; Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox Christianity; Hinduism and Islam contributed to the deepening of the concept of progress not “measurable in quantitative terms of possession and in the accumulation of material things” (“The Gubbio Charter 1982”).
With the only exception of the representative of Judaism, on account of the coincidence of the Seminar with the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, there were all the exponents of the major religions who had been protagonists of the meeting organized by WWF International at Assisi in 1986.
Differently from Assisi, where each religion presented its own declaration on environment, the final document “GUBBIO 1987. TOWARD THE THIRD MILLENNIUM” was undersigned by all participants: a great step forwards in the search for an agreement between science and faith and for an inter-religious dialogue.
In connection with the Seminar, the first MARCH for environment ASSISI-GUBBIO, was organized along the same route that, at the beginning of his mission in the world, St. Francis covered making “the praises to the Creator of all things echo through the woods” (Thomas of Celano, Vita prima).
The marchers were welcomed by Fr. José Angulo Quilis, T.O.R., the present President of the Conference of Ministers General of the four Franciscan Orders. To all the people who took part in the “march, which wanted to take the same path again from Assisi to Gubbio, followed by St. Francis after his dramatic despoliation”, the Minister General remembered that “St. Francis’ walk was a liberation march that brought him to choose a penitential life, which consisted in a net of new relations with God, men and all creatures”.
“In this glorious city of Gubbio, “known for Franciscan reconciliation and peace” (“The Gubbio Charter 1982″) – added Fr. Quilis – the celestial patron of ecologists” (Inter sanctos, Nov. 29, 1979) admonishes us not to misuse nature and environment. Not only because the future of humanity might be seriously and irreparably damaged, but above all, because the Creation is a marvellous book that proclaims our Creator’s multiform love and the dimensions of universal fraternity”.
In the presence of the Minister General, an inter-religious ceremony, which was performed in the church of St. Francis by the Bishop of Gubbio Mons. Ennio Antonelli, closed the celebrations related to the second Seminar.
The new “Charter”, which was quickly spread throughout Italy and abroad, achieved great favour. A proof of that was the specializing workshop for teachers coming from all the Countries of the Council of Europe, which was organized at Loreto (October 9-13, 1987) by the Ministry of Education. On that occasion, “Gubbio 1987” offered a rigorous ethical framing to the analysis of the theme “Acid rain: a threat for the environment and the artistic heritage of Europe”.
The need to make the structure of “Terra Mater”able to be institutionally and organically working, as it came out of the second Seminar, led the components of the Committee to elaborate a statute which was undersigned on October 6, 1989, in the City Hall of Gubbio, official centre of the new Association.
On the same day, in the convent of St. Francis, the winners of the national school contest, which was previously announced by “Terra Mater” with the cooperation of the Ministry of Education on the theme “The relationship between man and environment according to the principles of The Gubbio Charter”, were awarded prizes.
Afterwards, in the presence of Mons. Pietro Bottaccioli, the Bishop of Gubbio, and Fr. José Angulo Quilis, the Minister General of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, a conference based on Prof. Antonio Moroni’s relation, was held in the City Hall of Gubbio.
“The Catholic world has generally been absent in the debate on the causes of the relational crisis between man and environment”, affirmed Prof. Moroni, who then continued: “We have organically reconsidered the relationship between man and environment according to a Christian point of view, through the figure of St. Francis of Assisi, not the Gospel, and particularly through the international Seminars of Gubbio “Terra Mater”. The first one, I remembered it at Assisi on the day of the tenth anniversary of St. Francis’ proclamation as the patron of ecology, was the main manifest we are always to refer to. We are going ahead, specifying, but this is to be regarded as the general reference point: the more you read it, the more you find out it was prophetic, and had a great provisional point. The Seminar that took place in 1987 instead started to face partial themes: a quantity-quality balance, … and similarly, we are to face particular themes in the future… Finally, not the Catholic world, but the secular world has just started the discourse of a scientific and philosophical foundation of environmental ethics: the third Seminar is to think over this new question and offer a Christian answer”.
On this basis, the preparatory work for the third international Seminar found its starting point.
In the tenth anniversary of the proclamation of St. Francis as the patron of ecologists, ‘Terra Mater, paid a tribute to John Paul II. on November 29, 1989, by offering him “The Gubbio Charter” and the book Peace with Nature, describing its meaning.
“I would like to express to you – said the Pope addressing the delegation of “Terra Mater” – and to all those who have cooperated with you – my regard and my appreciation for what you always perform in order to increase man’s respect for environment and the religious attitude that St.. Francis of Assisi had toward the Creation, as a God’s work”.
On advice of Mr. Armando Montanari, the Vice-President of the BEE, “Terra Mater” was invited to ”The Danube Meeting” (Vienna-Budapest, March 19-21, 1990). Representatives of Eastern and Western Countries took part in the meeting, which aimed at formulating an “Agenda for Action “, to be sent – as a contribution of non-governmental organizations – to the Bergen European Conference (May 8-16, 1990) and to the Conference of the United Nations in Rio de Janeiro on “Environment and Development” (June 1992 ).
Divided into two phases (Gubbio, April 17-19; October 7-8, l991) the third interdisciplinary and inter-religious Seminar produced the document “GUBBIO 1991: ETHICS IN GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL STRATEGIES”, addressed to all men of good will and, especially, to the Conference of Rio in 1992.
On February 27, 1992, in the Ministry of the Environment in Rome, a representation of ‘Terra Mater’, among which there was the President of the Conference of Ministers General of the Franciscan Orders, Fr. José Angulo Quilis, T.O.R., delivered the “Gubbio 1991” Charter to the Minister Giorgio Ruffolo, who assured that the document would be acquired by the delegation of the Italian Government to the Congress of the United Nations in Rio de Janeiro.
In June 1992, “Terra Mater” took part in the G1OBAL FORUM of Rio de Janeiro, the general meeting of environmental associations which came along together with the congress of the United Nations on “Environment and Development “.
The document of the third Seminar was presented in a press conference at the International Press Centre and distributed in thousands of copies in a stand at Flamengo Park.
The meeting with Hermann Schalück, the Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, who gave his salutation and wished good work to “Terra Mater” was particularly meaningful while the contacts with Franciscans International at the United Nations and the Interfranciscan Group of Brazil for “Justice, Peace, Ecology”, who contributed to spread “The Gubbio Charter 1991” were very positive. Also the effort of Fr. Donal 0’Mahony, O.F.M.Cap. and Fr. John Quigley. O.F.M – members of the World Franciscan Commission “Justice, Peace, Ecology”, and in charge of representing all Franciscan Orders in the delegation of “Terra Mater” – was really precious.
On April 24, 1993, the Teatro Comunale of Gubbio, within the Umbriafiction festival, housed a television debate entitled “RIO A YEAR LATER”, in which, together with the representatives of “Terra Mater”, the Minister of the Environment, Giorgio Spini, and the presidents of the greatest Italian environmental associations took part. In front of the vast television audience, it is confirmed, in the name of St. Francis of Assisi, the need to consider the ethical principle of the respect for nature as the basis of any kind of development.
A more than ten-year-old activity imposed an evaluation. That is why Prof. René Coste, an authoritative personality of the Catholic world, was invited to express his opinion on the three “Gubbio Charters”. This bought to the essay “«Terra Mater», La Charte de Gubbio: Une Charte pour la Terre”, published by the magazine “Esprit & Vie” (N.11 – 14 Mars 1996 ).
In his essay, Prof. Coste considered the three documents as “milestones”, “historical stopping places”. In particular he underlined the “prophetic” feature of the first one (1982) in relation to the Brundtland Report (1987), the Conference of Rio (1992), the ecclesial process “Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation” (Vancouver, 1983), the ecumenical meetings of Bâle (1989) and Seoul (1990), the document of John Paul II “Peace with God the Creator” (1990).
Besides recognizing the merits achieved by “Terra Mater”, Prof. Coste also identified the guide lines for the future development of the Association, particularly in the prosecution of dialogue and the interdisciplinary and inter-religious cooperation, focused on the research of a morality, a theology and a spirituality of the Creation.
An encouragement to “Terra Mater” to continue on the way it had followed since in 1982 came from John Paul II, who, in the imminence of the Jubilee of the year 2000, invited all the Christians to enhance the signs of hope, present in both civilian and ecclesial fields: the commitment to protect environment, peace and justice, to promote reconciliation and solidarity among peoples, ecumenism, dialogue between religions and contemporary cultures (Apostolic letter “Tertio millennio adveniente”).
In the Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Pastores gregis”, on the Bishop, servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the hope of the world, issued on October 16, 2003, John Paul II finally seemed to implement what had been recommended by “The Gubbio Charter 1982”, when it states “…it is desirable…that bishops, pastors and local Churches constantly make the faithful aware of their responsibility to be active participants in the development of a different quality of life and in the protection of nature and environment”.
Paragraph 70 of the pontifical document (Respect for the environment and the protection of creation) in fact affirms: “There is a need for an ecological conversion, to which Bishops themselves can contribute, by their teaching about the correct relationship of human beings with nature. Seen in the light of the doctrine of God the Father, the maker of heaven and earth, this relationship is one of ”stewardship”: human beings are set at the centre of creation as stewards of the Creator”.
In the recurrence of the solemnity of Pentecost, on June 3, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI affirmed: “Those very people who, as Christians, believe in the Creator Spirit become aware of the fact that we cannot use and abuse the world and matter merely as material for our actions and desires; that we must consider creation a gift that has not been given to us to be destroyed, but to become God’s garden, hence, a garden for men and women. If we look at history – continued the Pope – we see that creation prospered around monasteries, just as with the reawakening of God’s spirit in human hearts the brightness of the Creator Spirit has also been restored to the earth – a splendour that has been clouded and at times even extinguished by the barbarity of the human mania for power. Moreover, the same thing happened once again around Francis of Assisi”.
In this tormented beginning of the millennium, once more St. Francis’ example reveals to be vital: ‘Terra Mater’ – according to Franciscan spirituality that animates it – can be confirmed as the privileged meeting place among cultural, scientific and religious orientations from every part of the world, “motivated not by catastrophic visions but by hope in the future” (“The Gubbio Charter 1982”).
The right occasion to resume its activity was offered to “Terra Mater” by the 25th anniversary of “The Gubbio Charter 1982”, occurring at the same time as the Franciscan year 2006/2007, celebrating the eight centennial of St. Francis’ conversion.
After his resignation from his fatherly estate – attests Thomas of Celano – the Poor Man left Assisi and went towards Gubbio. Once he came there, he went to the lepers assisting them assiduously, as the Seraphic himself gave evidence in his Testament. This was – the researchers today recognize – the central and decisive event in the conversion process of St. Francis of Assisi.
Between 24 and 27 September 2007, faithful to their historical pact of cooperation, Franciscans and environmentalists once more gathered at Gubbio, crib of Franciscanism, to hold the forth international “Terra Mater” Seminar, during which “THE GUBBIO CHARTER 2007” was elaborated.
While our planet situation seems to be more worrisome than ever before – the document reads – at a quarter of a century from the “prophetic” Gubbio Charter 1982, “Terra Mater” again encourages every man to follow St. Francis’ footsteps, to rediscover the fundamental values of housing the Earth.

Franco Raffi