FIVE years ago, I was surprised to find myself in the aftermath of a disaster. I was traveling in South-East Asia, and happened to visit the Philippines just after it was devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan.
This was the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Philippines, and storms like it are becoming more and more likely with the warming of the Pacific.
As I travelled through the country and met people whose lives had been upended, I began to develop a visceral sense of the connection between climate change and my Catholic values.
Catholic social teaching, and indeed the entire Christian tradition, teaches us that we are called to care for the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers. It is precisely these — the poor, the young, women and girls — who are most affected by the tragic consequences of a warming planet.
They are more likely to suffer hunger in a drought, to get sick when mosquitoes spread, to find their homes washed away by extreme weather like Typhoon Haiyan. To compound the injustice, these people are among the least likely to contribute to the very crisis that threatens them.
Around the world, Catholics are standing at the intersection of climate change and faith. In 2015, Pope Francis wrote Laudato Si’, the encyclical on ecology which galvanised the movement (News 19 June, 2015). Already, bishops are moving their dioceses to clean energy; and grassroots Catholics have led climate campaigns from the Philippines to Poland and in Peru.
Three recent actions within the Church make me hopeful for our shared future: the movement for fossil-fuel disinvestment, the Season of Creation, and the Climate Pilgrimage.
CATHOLIC bishops have been vocal in urging political leaders to “put an end to the fossil-fuel era”. Pope Francis recently reminded a group of oil executives that the Paris Agreement “clearly urged keeping most fossil fuels underground. . . Civilisation requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilisation!”
Catholic institutions are implementing that call by disinvesting from fossil-fuel corporations. To date, more than 120 Catholic institutions have announced that they are stepping away from this industry. Commitments have come from bishops’ conferences, archdioceses, religious communities, and Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican-affiliated global development agency. The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference joined them in August, coming alongside the Episcopal Conference of Belgium which has led the way among bishops’ conferences in Europe.
We do not stand alone. The 120-plus commitments from Catholic institutions make us one of the largest groups in the global disinvestment movement, which now numbers commitments from 985 organisations, totalling over $6 trillion in assets.
Among the Catholic commitments to disinvest this year was that of Caritas India, the development agency of the bishops in India. They were on the front lines of the recent floods in Kerala, a phenomenon driven by an unusually strong monsoon that killed more than 400 people and displaced more than one million (News 23 August).
Global Catholic Climate MovementPilgrims on the 2015 climate pilgrimage
Announcing their disinvestment, Bishop Lumen Monteiro, the president of Caritas India, said that its mission was “to bring the gospel’s love and compassion to people who need it, and to do that we must step away from the fossil fuels that cause so much suffering”.
Disinvesting from fossil fuels is a concrete way of living out Catholic teaching and moving the clean-energy economy forward, one that Catholic institutions see as increasingly important.
IN 2015, Pope Francis formally recognised the Day of Prayer for Creation, which was first recognised by the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch in 1989 (News 7 September). This day of prayer kicks off a month-long Season of Creation, a shared global celebration of prayer and action for creation.
The season runs each year from 1 September, the day of prayer, to 4 October, the feast of St Francis. Over the past three years, the Catholic family has collaborated with an ecumenical steering committee, which includes the Anglican Communion Environmental Network and other Christian networks, to help volunteers organise local events for the season.
Among almost 1000 events due to take place across six continents are a pilgrimage through a street settlement in Fiji and tree-planting in southern India. The unity of our witness to care for “our common home” is important. Each community that holds a Season of Creation event deepens its commitment to environmental protection. Community members take part in reflection and conversation with each other, enrich their spirits, and explore further steps on their road to sustainability.
Ultimately, the hundreds of local events add up to a Catholic family that is not waiting for governments to step in but moving forward now to act on climate change.
A FEW days ago, pilgrims took the first steps of a 1500km journey for climate justice. From their starting-point at the Vatican, pilgrims will walk to Katowice, Poland, the site of this year’s UN climate talks.
This is the Climate Pilgrimage, a Christian pilgrimage with meaningful Catholic leadership, from its roots in Rome, through dioceses across Central and Eastern Europe to its arrival in Poland, where more than 80 per cent of the population is Catholic. The journey is inspired by Laudato Si’, which says that we need to “set out on the long path to renewal”.
Pilgrims have come from the Philippines, Pacific islands, and Europe to raise a prophetic cry for action. They are calling for UN climate negotiators to be ambitious, and adopt a robust rule-book to keep global warming below 1.5ºC; a quick and just transition to clean energy; and for a deeper ecological conversion among the faithful.
The lead pilgrim on the journey, Yeb Saño, is Catholic and a former climate negotiator from the Philippines. His family experienced personal loss in Typhoon Haiyan. Since then, he has devoted every waking moment to solving the climate crisis.
With inspiration from Mr Saño, Pope Francis, and the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, I have hope that solutions to this crisis are within our grasp. We in the Catholic Church are answering the call of our faith. With our sisters and brothers in Christ, we are moving forward with urgency and clarity to protect creation and all who share it.
Tomás Insua is executive director of Global Catholic Climate Movement.