As Maltese society hopefully approaches the end of the partial lockdown, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Malta would like to reflect on the importance of open spaces available to all. This is being done in the same week in which we are celebrating the fifth anniversary of the publication of the Encyclical Laudato si’ by Pope Francis, “On the Care of Our Common Home”.

The importance of the availability of open spaces, especially in the context of densely populated areas is mentioned in this encyclical. The lockdown of the last few weeks has brought to the fore the lack of such spaces, which could provide some respite from the noise and pollution found in our busy neighbourhoods.

One of the main themes running throughout Laudato si’ is that humankind is showing a growing attitude of domination and exploitation of the natural environment to the detriment of humankind itself (par. 101-136). Laudato si’ also warns that when the environment is exploited, the first ones to suffer are very often the poor (par. 170), which include not only those who are not rich enough to lobby for their rights, but also all those who are on the periphery of society.

Inspired by this observation, the Justice and Peace Commission is calling for natural places to be protected from excessive development, to be safeguarded for present and future generations, and to be accessible to everyone. As highlighted by the Pope’s encyclical, such protection is necessary not only for environmental reasons but as a matter of social justice, where something which is truly essential for the wellbeing of all is protected and left to be enjoyed freely by everyone.

Needless to say, for the protection and preservation of our ecosystems, sometimes access to these public spaces needs to be restricted. However, a clear distinction must be made between any restrictions on the access of such spaces for the common good and those restricted for the good of a select few. A place to which access is closed for the protection of a natural environment is serving the common good, whilst a space to which access is closed for private activities, which in turn damage and destroy that environment, goes against this principle of the common good. 

In view of this, the Commission is endorsing the initiative ‘Spazji Miftuħa’, whilst calling for restraint in the development of protected spaces in Malta and to make sure that these protected areas remain accessible to everyone throughout the year.