Christians were prominent in last Sunday’s climate marches around the world, lobbying this week’s meeting of world leaders at a UN climate summit on 23 September in New York. The meeting was in preparation for a crucial conference in Paris in December 2015 aimed at finalising a new global climate change agreement.
More than 2,800 events were held in 166 countries, and the largest, a “People’s Climate March” through Manhattan of 300,000 people was the largest climate-related protest in history. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon walked alongside high-profile environmentalists such as India’s Vandana Shiva and Ireland’s Mary Robinson. At least 10,000 people of faith gathered in advance of the New York march for prayer, speeches, music, and with a huge ark and an inflatable mosque. Senior Catholics in this lobby were Fr Michael Czerny of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, President of Caritas Internationalis, and Nigerian Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja.
“As people of faith, we call on all governments to express their commitment to limit global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius” said a joint statement of the faiths. New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan blogged that “it would be wonderful if there was a strong Catholic presence at the march, to indicate our prayerful support of God’s creation”.
Franciscans stood out in their brown habits and environmental placards. "I think of climate change as a moral issue," Patrick Carolan, director of the Franciscan Action Network, told crowds. "The only solution as Christians is to follow the teachings of Jesus, where we look at all of God's creation as our brother and sister, as St. Francis did."
Other religious congregations with banners included Maryknoll Fathers and Sisters, Columban JPIC, Dominican JPIC, Jesuits, Mercy Sisters USA and Sisters of Notre Dame. Jesuit priest and peace activist John Dear criticised the huge greenhouse gas emissions of the US military while walking with a Pax Christi contingent.
An estimated 40,000 people marched in London to the Houses of Parliament, including supporters of CAFOD, Christian Aid, and Tearfund. The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, told them “we are stewards of the Earth”.
Meanwhile the Vatican’s Secretary of State has made an impassioned appeal to the international community to tackle global warming.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin sent a message to a UN summit on climate change, which was delivered by the Holy See’s Permanent Observer at the United Nations, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, who said that the evidence for global warming was unequivocal and that climate change was principally the result of human behaviour.
“Prudence must prevail,” the Indian-born archbishop said, and called for “a great political and economic commitment” to tackling levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
“There is no room for the globalisation of indifference, the economy of exclusion or the throwaway culture so often denounced by Pope Francis,” he said.
He called for “a profound and far-sighted revision of models of development and lifestyles”, highlighting the “significant efforts” the Vatican City State had already made to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels through diversification and through energy efficiency projects.
But he said that such measures alone were not enough, adding that respect for the environment depended on respect for human dignity within society. This was something that Catholic schools, parishes and charities sought to instil in their members, he added.
“Market forces alone, especially when deprived of a suitable ethical direction, however, cannot resolve the interdependent crisis concerning global warming, poverty and exclusion,” he added.
He went on: “States have a common responsibility to protect the world climate by means of mitigation and adaptation measures, as well as by sharing technologies and “know-how”.
But above all they have a shared responsibility to protect our planet and the human family, ensuring present and future generations have the possibility of living in a safe and worthy environment.”