When Pope Francis published his encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home” in May 2015, I couldn’t have been more excited and hopeful. As a lay associate of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus (S.H.C.J.), I had been preparing for this document’s release with the sisters in our EcoSpirituality Group. Those of us who were local were meeting monthly in Rosemont.
Calling ourselves “The Evergreens,” we shared signs of hope – anything from the sighting of a bright red cardinal to a news article on legislation to protect the environment – and we prayed together for the flourishing of the Earth community.
Fast forward to fall of 2021: Pope Francis is recognized the world over as a prime mover in the environmental community; “Laudato Si’” has been studied, shared, referenced and admired widely; and the U.N. Climate Conference, COP26, is set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland, during the first two weeks of November.
On Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis, leaders of the world’s religions have joined scientists at the Vatican to sign a joint appeal, “Faith and Science: Towards COP26,” and present it to Alok Sharma, the president of COP26. As the conference opens, Cardinal Petro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State and leader of the interfaith delegation, reads a letter from Pope Francis urging participants to act decisively on climate.
Negotiations, protests, dreams of a better world unfold in Glasgow. The day after the conference ends, the Vatican launches its Laudato Si’ Action Platform to transform the global church’s response to the climate crisis. “At this kairos moment,” the Vatican declares, “we are responding to the call for healing in our relationships with God, our neighbors, and the Earth itself.”
Now that the conference has concluded with the signing of the Glasgow Climate Pact, should we feel hopeful that the message of “Laudato Si’” is finally going to lead to action? The post-COP26 messaging in the press, both religious and secular, has been a mixed bag.
Yes, the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius was reaffirmed. But if current trends continue, that won’t be possible. Yes, fossil fuels have been called out for the first time. But India insisted that coal be “phased down,” not “phased out.” Yes, the wealthy nations have pledged to help developing countries most impacted by climate change. But no, they never even followed through on that last $100 billion pledge they made back in Paris, so why should we believe them now?
In short, will the promises made in Glasgow be kept? What does all of this have to do with our Catholic faith?
If the promises made in Glasgow are not yet binding, nevertheless they signify a positive shift toward awareness of the gravity of the climate crisis and the imperative to act now.
Moreover, several significant steps are worth celebrating.
The Scottish bishops’ conference committed to divesting from fossil fuels. Climate envoys John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua finally came together to discuss cooperation between the U.S. and China. More than 100 countries joined the U.S. and the E.U. in the Global Methane Pledge to reduce emissions. Another 120 countries, including the U.S. and Brazil, vowed to end deforestation through strong economic sanctions and funding for Indigenous peoples.
COP27 is scheduled to take place next year, sooner than originally planned, to push toward the necessary reduction in greenhouse gas emissions so that “net zero” can be reached.
“Laudato Si’” gives us what we need to move forward – a spirituality, a context rooted in Scripture, the science, the social justice component – it’s all there. Pope Francis terms it “integral ecology.” Yet how many of us are hearing about it in our parishes?
Luckily, a new initiative coalesced last April here in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia: EcoPhilly (ecophilly.org). EcoPhilly’s goal is to follow the call of the Vatican and the example of the Scottish bishops in pursuing systemic change within our own archdiocese.
I found out about it through my connections to two parishes, Our Mother of Consolation and Old St Joseph’s, that are working with EcoPhilly to develop their creation care teams. EcoPhilly’s mission is to reach every parish with the message of care for our common home.
So yes, there are many signs of hope even in these troubled times. With that hope and our faith in mind, please consider attending a workshop sponsored by EcoPhilly on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, from 9 a.m. till 12 noon, at the St. Augustine Friary, 214 Ashwood Road, Villanova.
“From Faith to Action: The Nuts and Bolts of Nurturing a Creation Care Team in Your Parish” is free and open to all; reply to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It is good for humanity and the world at large when we believers better recognize the ecological commitments which stem from our convictions” (“Laudato Si’,” no. 64).
Michelle Dugan is a retired teacher, mother and grandmother in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, a lay associate of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and a member of the Catholic Relief Services Philadelphia Advocacy Chapter.
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