Prepping for Paris

Magisterial and lay Catholic eco-activists embrace hope, make final push for COP21

There aren’t many places where Catholics aren’t prepping for Paris. From Princes of the Church to seasoned climate activists to people in the pews stepping for the first time into the fray, Catholics the world over will be making their voice heard at the COP21 international climate talks—and indeed they’ve already begun.

Here’s just some of what’s happening:

The People’s Petitions

With just under 730,000 signatures as I write—and just over 1 million expected by this weekend—the Global Catholic Climate Movement will be joining other faith groups in Paris on Saturday where some 2 million signatures in total will be hand-delivered to United Nations and French officials.

Presenting the Catholic petition will be Brazil’s Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, O.F.M., who famously exhorted Pope Francis hours after his election to not forget the poor. In presenting the GCCM signatures to international officials, Cardinal Hummes will be giving a voice to those of the poor (and the not-so-poor) whose signatures equal a demand that COP21 end with a fair, workable climate treaty.

While the GCCM petition has been signed in over 130 nations, the vast majority has come from the Philippines, thanks to an extraordinary effort by Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila (president of Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican's charitable arm) and orchestrated by his archdiocesan environmental head, Lou Arsenio, with help from a holy army throughout the Filipino Church. As always, there's much more to come in the Philippines as noted in a recent media advisory issued by Arsenio and Columban Fr. John Leydon, both working with GCCM.

The Pakistani climate march provided a much-needed interfaith example of faiths working together on climate (and other) issues. The march included representatives of the Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, and Christian communities.

Cardinal Tagle was one of the first high-ranking Church officials to sign the petition. So was Cardinal Hummes, as well as cardinals and bishops around the world, including Pope Francis’s Ceremonieri, Monsignor Guillermo Karcher. (Pontiffs, as a rule, do not sign petitions. But they can throw their weight behind them.)

While clergy from the Global South have been most active in supporting the petition, Cardinals Theodore McCarrick OFM (Archbishop Emeritus of Washington DC) and Seán Patrick O’Malley (Boston) signed on last week, adding to the number of high-profile US Catholics taking part.

To underscore this mounting US involvement, a delegation of representatives of the GCCM delivered to the White House this morning the over 20,000 petition signatures from US Catholics. Melissa Rogers, of president’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives received the copies. The Franciscan Action Network assisted with the ceremony.

Similar events took place in England and Australia yesterday.

Jacqui Remond, Director of Catholic Earthcare Australia, and Paul O’Callaghan, Chief Executive Officer of Caritas Australia, delivered the GCCM's Australian petitions to Julie Bishop, Australia’s Commonwealth Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trading.

In London, CAFOD handed over some 40,000 signatures to the UK's Prime Minister David Cameron.

And this past weekend in Pakistan, Archbishop Joseph Coutts (Karachi), and Bishops Benny Traves (Multan) and Rufin Anthony (Rawalpindi/Islamabad) signed GCCM’s petition as part of an interfaith march and rally to the Punjab Assembly in Lahore, sponsored in part by Columban missionaries.

Saturday's interfaith climate march in Pakistan (left), and Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi Diocese signing the GCCM petition. Photo: Courtesy of the Columban Missionaries.

Of course the Pakistani climate march provided a much-needed interfaith example of faiths working together on climate (and other) issues. The march included representatives of the Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, and Christian communities, “and it attracted much interest from passersby,” said one event organizer.

More Marches

Interest from passersby—and from international leaders and climate negotiators—is exactly what organizers of this Sunday’s Global Climate March are hoping for.

"I would invite you to offer the celebration of the Eucharist in your Diocese, on 29 November, for a responsive and successful international conference" Cardinal Peter Turkson to brother cardinals and bishops

Taking place in some 2,000 cities and towns around the world—except Paris, where security concerns prohibit such demonstrations—some 1 million people are expected to take part globally, including many Catholics, with organizational help from the GCCM.

This on-the-street involvement of Catholics has just received hefty support by Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, President of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace. On Monday (and updated Thursday) the cardinal issued a remarkably candid exhortation to his brother cardinals and bishops around the globe to encourage the faithful to take part in climate activities. (Cardinal Turkson's letter is also available in Italiano, Español, Français, Português, Deutsche.)

“Your Eminence, Your Grace, Your Excellency,” the cardinal writes, “you are warmly invited to offer your support in prayer, word and action.”

He continues,

Accordingly, I would invite you to offer the celebration of the Eucharist in your Diocese, on 29 November, for a responsive and successful international conference and summit. Moreover, if you could please encourage the faithful and many others to exercise their “ecological citizenship”, this would surely help to reinforce the humble and peaceable spirit of Laudato Si’, and it would spiritually express communion with the universal Church.

For recipients in the United States, the cardinal’s letter was a follow-up call-to-action after Cardinal Turkson's visits to the US this summer and fall, as well as those of Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras.

This extended level of outreach in the States (and elsewhere) from Rome in support of Laudato Si’ amounts to a full-court press to all Catholics—especially those in the Global North—to better appreciate the eco-struggles in much of the world, including the Global South, and to take action to help.

Pope Francis in Africa

Cardinal Turkson isn’t the only African voice crying out for eco-justice.

Pope Francis’s apostolic visit to Kenya, Uganda, and the Central African Republic begins this weekend—just in time for civil society’s marches and other worldwide efforts demanding action at COP21. In his visit to the African continent, the pontiff and his hosts are expected to speak often about eco- and climate issues.

In his dispatch for Catholic World Report, Allen Ottaro—a cofounder of the GCCM and a founder of CYNESA (Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa)—gives a preview of the pontiff’s eco-agenda:

[Pope Francis's] speech [at the United Nations Environment Program] is critical as it will come only a few days before the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known by the acronym CoP21, which will be held in Paris.” The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat) are the only UN agencies headquartered in the global south and so, when Pope Francis speaks there, just a few months after the release of the encyclical Laudato Si, it will be a strong signal to world leaders to “hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

Next Steps

Well, folks, those are the highlights. Of course there’s much more happening (like the Yeb Saño/People's Pilgrimage en route to Paris) and there is much more planned for the next week, month, and what will continue to be a historic year in the life of the Church.

Because it won’t all be ending with COP21.

For sure, the place of the Church in the environmental movement is now fixed—which means that secular eco-voices are going to have to make room for those of us who will be preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ alongside our eco-prophetic proclamations.

For now, as always, stay tuned to Catholic Ecology for the latest news and analysis about what all this means for the Church, the planet, and, yes, for the salvation of souls.

If you like Catholic Ecology,
you’ll love…

A Printer's Choice

The sci-fi novel with a Catholic twist.

A Printer's Choice

Learn more

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.