A global Catholic climate movement of grace

When it comes to engaging issues of climate change, there has been a growing desire to unite the individual efforts of Catholics and to encourage the involvement of others. Today that desire was fulfilled with the issuance of a statement “to the Church and the world” from the newly formed Global Catholic Climate Movement.

Made up of a lay, religious, and clergy, this growing global organization hopes to support the Holy See’s efforts, which in part is why we opted to introduce our efforts as Pope Francis opens his visit to the Philippines—a nation that is still recovering from back-to-back super-typhoons in 2013 and last month. When the Holy Father visits areas ravaged by these storms he will be calling to mind what strong storms can do to the weakest among us. And while particular weather events should not be associated with climatological trends, we are hard-pressed to ignore tendencies in odd weather of late throughout the world. Nor can we dismiss that such tendencies align with what happens when a slightly altered composition of the atmosphere triggers it to act differently.

I am blessed to be a founding member of the group. I’ve made some wonderful new friends (like Dr. Pablo Canziani of Argentina, whom I interviewed last week). And I got to watch the Holy Spirit in action. What beside grace can bring together so quickly and effectively a group of strangers that carve out time every week to build relationships and consensus? Certainly Skype helped. But the unifying presence of Christ made all the difference.

For many of us in the fledgling Global Catholic Climate Movement, the effects of climate change are not far-off predictions. They are being experienced now. Allen Ottaro of Kenya noted that farmers in Africa often speak of changing growing seasons and patterns. They do so not because of scientific studies but because of their relationships with their elders, who know from their elders how things have always grown—and when—and how today they are growing differently.

And so it goes with many of us who work with or hear from people across the globe—people impacted in one way or another by subtle or sometimes sudden changes in the status quo.

With these shared concerns, the group penned a statement of unity from the input of many. We shared the statement with those we knew—theologians, activists, aid providers, and more. Excitement grew as eager Catholics from all walks of life added their name (or that of their institution) to the list of supporters.

Bringing us together was the inspired efforts of a student at Harvard University, Tomás Insua, who wanted to see his beloved Church speak more effectively through the laity about the challenges of climate change. Tomás contacted those he knew and those he heard about (like me), and soon we all began working together.

We’re all still getting to know each other but from what we’ve been through already, we’ve formed a close team—fused together by grace and a common desire to shore up the common good, even if we bring with us different ideas of how best to do that.

But then, that’s the nature of grace: touching us all and bringing together that which would otherwise never meet.

The statement explains this coming together:

Our collaboration echoes the global dimensions of the Catholic Church and a shared sense of responsibility to care for God’s beautiful, life-giving creation. We are inspired by Church teachings and guided by the virtue of prudence—understood by St. Thomas Aquinas as “right reason applied to action.” We accept the findings of scientific leaders, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to widespread and mostly harmful changes to planetary systems. We are certain that anthropogenic [human-made] climate change endangers God’s creation and us all, particularly the poor, whose voices have already spoken of the impacts of an altered climate.

Surely all this will spark scorn and maybe outrage for some who don’t accept the scientific consensus on climate change. But our goal is not to cause division. It is to encourage dialogue—to provide the Church with an opportunity to grow in unity.

And our desire is not to offer specific economic plans or political agendas, for that is not the way of the Church. Rather, we seek to focus on the moral and spiritual dimensions of climate issues. We seek to support the common good by championing the teachings of the Church—St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis—by encouraging (for instance) prayer, fasting, and action in the public square.

Much more will be coming in the weeks and months ahead. But for now, read the document, and if you’d like to join this movement of grace, sign up at our website. And while you’re at it, say a prayer for the Church as she continues her work within the world so that she may, with God’s grace, help restore it.

The document initial signatories include: Catholic Earthcare Australia; Franciscan Action Network (USA); Acción Católica Argentina (Argentina); Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (Africa); Archdiocese of Manila Ecology Ministry (Philippines); Franciscans International; Jesuit European Social Centre (Europe); Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach (USA); EcoJesuit (Asia/Europe); Reconciliation with Creation, Jesuit Conference Asia Pacific (Asia); CatholicEcology.net (USA); Ciara Shannon, Our Voices (China); Jeffry Odell Korgen, Our Voices and GreenFaith (USA); Dan Misleh, Catholic Climate Covenant (USA); Dr. Pablo Canziani, miembro Red Argentina de Laicos, referente Acción Católica Argentina, Investigador Principal Conicet (Argentina); Dr. Tobias Winright, Saint Louis University (USA); Dr. Celia Deane Drummond, University of Notre Dame (USA); Dr. Charles Camosy, Fordham University (USA); Dr. Holly Taylor Coolman, Providence College (USA); John Berkman, Regis College, University of Toronto (USA); Dr. Erin Lothes, College of Saint Elizabeth (USA); Lindo Lío (Argentina); Columban Missionary Society, Philippine Region (Philippines); Leadership Conference of Women Religious (USA); Catholic Rural Life (USA); Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ Institute Leadership Team (USA); EDiPA Equipo Diocesano de Pastoral Ambiental, Obispado de San Isidro (Argentina); English Speaking Conference of the Order of Friars Minor; Catholic Charities (USA).

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.