Damages caused by Cyclone Winston in Fiji in 2016. Photo: Columbans Fiji
In 1992 at the Earth Rio Summit, world leaders adopted international agreements to protect the environment for the benefit of all life. This included the United Nations Convention on Climate Change. Since 1995, world leaders have met annually to review progress and propose renewed action towards avoiding dangerous global warming. The Glasgow Climate Pact was agreed on at the latest Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, 31st October – 12th November 2021. The Glasgow Climate Pact is a compromised agreement to phase down coal, increase climate adaptation finance for developing nations, and strengthen targets. COP 27 will take place in Egypt, November 7-18, 2022. The global community is invited to continue their efforts in readiness, particularly concerning the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and financial assistance for those nations most affected by the impacts of climate change.
Pacific nations, including Fiji, where Columban missionaries live and minister, were active participants at COP 26 to raise their voices that the difference between 1.5 degrees to 2 degrees increase in global temperatures is critical to their communities. An outstanding issue for Pacific Island nations and other vulnerable countries is finance for loss and damage from repeated extreme events such as cyclones, floods and droughts, which are increasingly difficult to recover from. Columban missionaries support local communities with these urgent concerns. Archbishop Peter Loy Chong of Suva, Fiji, during the Eco-Jesuit webinar event on 8th November 2021, ‘Faith at the Climate Frontiers COP 26,’ stated that faith communities play a vital role, including helping to amplify the voices of those most impacted. The Archbishop said the local experiences of communities and the suffering of all creation, communicated in stories, art and song, touch the hearts of people, not just the scientific facts. In early 2022, Columban missionaries will be launching the next Biodiversity podcast series to highlight global issues.
For decades, Columban missionaries have been at the frontlines of Catholic education and advocacy for climate justice and care for creation. Based on their missionary experience, Columban missionaries held a climate change conference in the Philippines in 2007 and established a commitment to work internationally on this issue.
The impacts of unsustainable demands on the environment are borne unequally worldwide. Degraded landscapes coupled with climate change impact food and water security and cause increasing economic hardship for Indigenous peoples and local communities living in poverty. First Nations delegates who gathered at COP 26 reminded the global community that Indigenous peoples protect the vast majority of the world’s remaining biodiversity. Healthy living systems are essential for the life and wellbeing of all.
Faith communities and groups from civil society were actively engaged in COP 26 to send the strong message that current systems are not addressing the underlying causes of the twin ecological and human crises. Social and environmental integrity is needed to ensure global commitments advance towards a just and sustainable future for everyone. The Church has made commitments to integrated responses that draw deeply on renewed theological understandings, informed by science and the signs of the times.
Pope Francis, in his 2015 Encyclical letter Laudato Si’ On Care for our Common Home states: “there is need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. (#114)” The next phase of the Pope’s Encyclical, the Laudato Si’ Action Platform invites Catholics to gather, pray, lament, listen and discern local and international need. The Laudato Si’ Action Platform process is designed to be empowering, rather than a prescriptive list of things to do. Franciscan priest Fr Richard Rohr, in his blog of 16th November 2021, states: “What we need is a new way of being in the world together that embodies the reality that all life is sacred, precious, and connected; only the contemplative mind can bring forward this new consciousness which is needed to awaken a more loving, just, and sustainable world.”
Pope Francis reminds us God’s love is never indifferent. In his message for the Feast of the Holy Trinity on 27th May, 2018 the Pope stated: “God is with us and is interested in our personal story and cares for each person.” As Christmas approaches, we prepare to celebrate anew that God is with us - Emmanuel. In the Gospel reading for the fourth week of Advent, we are told in scripture that Mary acted in faith as she set out in haste to the hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Mary believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled. May we prepare for Christmas and the New Year of 2022 in faith, hope, courage and love in these times of immense global change and opportunity.
Sr Caroline Vaitkunas RSM
Peace, Ecology and Justice Team member
Columban Mission Centre, Essendon
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