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.
The newest science findings are disturbing, requiring even more change than we previously thought. (See “The Sky’s Limit”: https://theleapblog.org/the-skys-limit-why-the-paris-climate-goals-require-a-managed-decline-of-fossil-fuel-production/ ) A resounding call rose for support of a decisive shift in thought and actions from all nations, urging the use of multitude of solutions. It was also that a more united leadership is needed from the Catholic Church (and other religions) for this shift, using the education system, liturgies, and preaching. It was hoped that the Catholic Church could launch a divestment-reinvestment movement--for its institutions and believers to divest their stocks and endowments from companies involved in fossil-fuel based industries (and other unsustainable or unjust practices) to reinvest in alternative energy and sustainable companies. Money can be one of the tools to make this shift. This divestment-reinvestment concept is based in Matthew 6:21—putting one’s treasure where one’s heart and values lie. (For more information, go to the Global Catholic Climate Movement: http://catholicclimatemovement.global/ .)
Members from the Chinese delegation provided stories of how some of their shifts were already providing positive ecological, social, and economic benefits. At the close of the conference, the Holy See presented a statement which was not a summation of the day's presentations and conversation but a diplomatic overview of the core principles. (For more on the conference and Holy See statement, go to http://www.pas.va/content/accademia/en/events/2016/cop22/final_statement.html )
Just before we adjourned for dinner, Pope Francis arrived and spoke of the scientific leadership on climate issues and the suffering he has witnessed in his travels, such as in the Philippines: "This is a human problem, it's our problem, so we should solve it. And it grows poverty and misery in the world, that's why I'm so worried about it."
That same day he tweeted:
Pope Francis ✔ @Pontifex How beautiful would it be to leave the world a better place than the way we found it. 4:30 AM - 28 Sep 2016 Retweets 19,654 Likes 39,102
When I returned that evening to the hotel to share with Mary about the day’s adventures and hear about hers, she showed me something on her phone. While snapping photos of the pope at the general audience as he moved around the crowd talking to people, especially seeking out those in the wheelchairs and with illness, Mary later discovered that she had snapped photos of the very family we had met and so admired the day before! What struck me was the pope’s intense embrace. It was exactly what he was asking from us in this conference, what he was asking all of us to do in as part of the wider circle of the family of humanity – to go out of our way to seek out those who seem most in need of affirmation, healing, and love. To use our policies and politics, our personal lives and communities to reach out beyond our comfort zones to change so we can offer the possibility of comfort, joy, and hope to those villagers in the small island nations becoming refugees because of rising tides and hurricanes; to the indigenous communities watching their rights being taken away for pipelines, oil drilling, mining, fracking, logging, and development; to the Arctic peoples witnessing the ground literally melting underneath their feet; to the youth around the globe feeling ever more dispirited with cynicism and the fear that they may not have a livable planet to grow older in …and so many more. All of these people, all children of God, are hoping that they can look to us, and we will see and embrace them and work with them for a new future. The cries of the earth are the cries of the poor.
So let us all pray together for more commitment and action at November’s climate talks at COP22 in Morocco. Just as important, let us find ways to use science and technology and sacrifice to make changes in our own personal habits, politics, communities, faith congregations, nations, technologies, energy, and paradigms. We need, as one participant stated and the pope has demonstrated, “an evolution of tenderness.”
Marybeth Lorbiecki, M.A. lives and works in Hudson, Wisconsin. Interfaith Oceans Facebook can be followed at https://www.facebook.com/interfaithoceancampaign/