I was recently and quite unexpectedly invited to a conference at the Vatican, not by the pope, but by Cardinal Peter Turkson, from the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace. The night before, my friend Mary and I happily sat down to dinner and wine at a sidewalk café a few blocks from St. Peter’s Square. It was a lovely September evening with a full moon and a strolling accordion player. Just behind us was a chattering bright-eyed dark-haired girl of about three. She was life force incarnate, and her Italian mother and father were trying to quiet her, lest she bothered us. We gestured that there was no problem, we were enjoying her.
In another stroller was another daughter, this one older but unable to speak except with her eyes. They followed her mama, who was close to her, but also her sister and papa and the whole street. We were struck by this family of four, and this special child who participated through her vulnerable and joyful trust, the silent version of her younger sister. Though we knew it not, this family would circle back into our lives.
The next day, my friend left to seek a good seat at the general audience with Pope Francis on the square of St. Peter’s Basilica. In the hotel lobby, I was greeted by a staff member from the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace and escorted down the street past the guarded gate and through the Vatican greens to the home of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences--a “casina” with a marble courtyard and columned entrance. We were assembling for the conference sponsored by the Council and Academy to help the Holy See in its preparation for the United Nation’s upcoming climate talks in Morocco in November. The guiding principles for us were to be those laid out in the pope’s encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. The 45 panelists and participants spanned international climate scientists, development and poverty-alleviation specialists, theologians, ethicists, and those working with the poor, especially those in island nations suffering from rising seas and devastating hurricanes, such as the Philippines and Myanmar. I was invited as the director of Interfaith Oceans and author of Following St. Francis: John Paul II’s Call for Ecological Action.