On eve of U.N. climate summit, Catholics join in calls for change

IMAGE: CNS photo/Simone Orendain


PARIS (CNS) — Hundreds of
thousands of people in at least 150 countries around the world demanded action
on climate change on the eve of a U.N. conference that aimed to find agreement
on greenhouse gas emissions.

Heads of state traveled to Paris
for the Nov. 30-Dec. 11 Conference of Parties, or COP21, in the Paris suburb of
Le Bourget. Catholic organizations advocating to protect the world and its
people from the impact of climate change said the terror attacks in Paris had
not dissuaded them from attending a major U.N. summit there.

Interfaith leaders gathered in
Saint-Denis, France, Nov. 28 to hand over a petition with more than 1.8 million
signatures — 800,000 collected by Catholic organizations — calling for action
on climate change. At the event, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, president
of the Pan-Amazonian Church Network, referred to Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato
Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” and to an October appeal by Catholic
bishops worldwide that called “for a fair, binding and truly
transformational climate agreement in Paris.”

“We ask for drastic cuts of
carbon emissions to keep the global temperature rise below the dangerous
threshold of 1.5°C,” the cardinal said. “As the bishops’ appeal
states, we need to ‘put an end to the fossil fuel era’ and ‘set a goal for
complete decarbonization by 2050.’

“And we ask wealthier
countries to aid the world’s poorest to cope with climate change impacts, by
providing robust climate finance,” he added.

Originally, hundreds of
thousands were expected to march in Paris Nov. 29, but the march was canceled
after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks. Instead, Parisians and others from around
the world donated shoes and set them up at Place de la Republique. The display
was disrupted as Paris police used tear gas to break up an unauthorized

Jesuit Father Michael Czerny,
who works at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, confirmed Pope
Francis donated a signed pair of shoes to the display. Cardinal Hummes and
Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and
Peace, also signed and donated shoes.

From Seoul, South Korea, to Ottawa, Ontario; New York to
Sao Paulo, people marched to demand climate change. Some, like those in
Oakland, California, marched more than a week ahead. Most advocates gathered
Nov. 28-29, such as in Nairobi, Kenya, where people planted trees in Uhuru

Washington, about 500 people, including members of parishes in Washington,
Maryland and northern Virginia, came out for a march around the White House Nov.
29. One couple, members of a parish in Los Altos, California, joined them after
learning about the march from the Global Catholic Climate Movement. Many
participants carried signs referring to “Laudato Si’.”

In Ottawa, Ontario, and Vancouver, British Columbia,
church leaders joined environmentalists and First Nations members in marches
Nov. 29. In London, hundreds of supporters of CAFOD, the overseas development
agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, braved wind and rain to
join more than 50,000 marchers. CAFOD said the march included an interfaith
service at Westminster Synagogue involving about 200 campaigners from
Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist traditions, who reflected on the issues that
united them and “recommitted themselves to caring for creation, for our neighbors
and to tackling climate change.”

In Manila, Philippines, dozens
of religious added their voices to the cry of mostly Catholic activists during
a climate march on a humid, overcast morning.

In the plaza across the street
from Our Lady of Remedies Church, Sacred Heart Missionaries seminarian Reynon
Ajero held up colorful signs that said “Resist the plunder of our
environment” and a reference to the pope’s “Laudato Si’.”

Ajero said he grew up in a
mountainous village in the southern province of Zamboanga del Norte populated
with “plenty of diversity” in animals, trees and wild flowers. On
Nov. 29, he lamented the significant loss of trees to mining and the
disappearance of the animals from his childhood.

“I want to ask all the
people to be awake,” he told Catholic News Service. “I want make the
people know that we are suffering for what is our mistake to our mother earth.
So whatever we do to ourselves, we do to the mother earth, it will return to

This message in the plaza was
played out over and over in singing, dance numbers and dramatizations of the
impacts of the earth’s rising temperatures.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop
Broderick Pabillo opened an outdoor Mass with a prayer of hope during the
lighting of the first candle on an Advent wreath.

“Hope for the enlightenment
of all peoples, that we are just a strand in the web of life, that what we do
to the environment, we do to ourselves,” said Bishop Pabillo.

Lou Arsenio, head of the Manila
Archdiocese Ecology Ministry and one of the originators of the Global Catholic
Climate Movement, since the movement started about a year ago, she has seen
greater awareness among Catholics, but she told Catholic News Service there is
more work to do.

In Melbourne, Australia, Nov.
27, more than 40,000 people marched in the city’s central business district to
call for action on climate change. A statement on the website of the
Archdiocese of Melbourne said Catholics were at the forefront of the march.
Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, former president of Caritas
Internationalis, told the crowd: “We were given a garden. We may not
deliver back a desert.”

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Contributing to this story were
Simone Orendain in Manila and Simon Caldwell in Manchester, England.

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