“We can mend our broken home,” Environment Bishop tells conference delegates

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“With Pope Francis as an inspiration in our lives, we can mend our broken home” says the Lead Bishop for Environmental Issues for the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

Bishop John Arnold of Salford was speaking on Saturday, 24 July, at a Mass during the annual conference of the National Justice and Peace Network of England and Wales (NJPN) on the theme 2021: Moment of Truth – Action for Life on Earth.

The three-day gathering from 23-25 July attracted 200 participants to Derbyshire for the first face-to-face meeting – albeit through masks – of J&P activists since the pandemic started.

Bishop Arnold thanked NJPN, “for who you are, what you stand for and what you want”, and he appreciated keeping Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ as a beacon for J&P education, advocacy, lifestyle and liturgy. He underlined that, Churches and faiths “are making clear they want action.”

Vatican support

An upbeat message was also delivered by Fr P. Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam SDB, Coordinator of the ‘Ecology and Creation’ sector of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. In a video presentation on the opening evening he too highlighted the importance of a serious approach to tackling climate change in the lead-up to UN Climate talks in Glasgow in November, and confronting the global injustices of access to wealth, healthcare and a fruitful environment.

He told the conference: “It is important to acknowledge the truth of the crisis of our common home; the planet is crying out and the poor are crying out; we need to open our ears and hear these painful cries.”  Yet, he also felt these times are “a watershed, a moment of change, and a moment of hope”. He told the Justice and Peace network:

“You can count on the support of our Dicastery as we work together under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as families, parishes, communities, and institutions, to heal and protect mother Earth.”

Combatting Global Warming

Conference Chair Christine Allen, Director of CAFOD, reminded that there are now just 100 days to COP26 in Glasgow and that CAFOD is working with the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) and faith leaders to lobby for global warming to be kept below 1.5 degrees. The conference provided ideas for mobilising for COP26 and for promoting ecological conversion and action in the Church and wider society, all inspired by the papal encyclical Laudato Si’. She reported that CAFOD, “amplifies voices around the world in climate vulnerable situations,” supporting environmental and human rights defenders in dangerous confrontations over natural resources. She urged campaigners in UK to engage with CAFOD’s ‘Parliament in your Parish’ and LiveSimply programmes.

Fr Eamonn Mulcahy CSSp’s presentation on, Let us dream together: Pope Francis’ Gospel Vision for an Integral Humanity, considered criticisms of excessive anthropocentrism, consumerism and the technocratic paradigm – all themes taken from Laudato Si’.  “We must be agents for healing and restoration” he said, “respecting every living creature and organism.”

Laudato Si’ – a lived reality

Keynote speaker Lorna Gold, Chair of the Board of the Global Catholic Climate Movement and author of Climate Generation: Awakening to Our Children’s Future, highlighted the “vibrant network of networks sustaining and nurturing ecological conversion right across the world” and turning Laudato Si’ “into a lived reality.” She applauded the role young people have played in stimulating climate action. “Young people have done more in two years than the rest of us have done over three decades” she said. Lorna felt the pandemic is teaching us that we are all connected to each other and to nature and what it means to act together to face a common threat. She felt Pope Francis’ vision of ecological conversion refers to “community conversion”.  

Andy Atkins, head of Arocha UK, an ecumenical partner, underlined how far Churches have come with programmes such as LiveSimply, Eco Church, Eco Congregation, Climate Sunday and Fossil Fuel Divestment with Operation Noah. In fact, more than 5000 churches across the Christian denominations are registered with green schemes which “was unimaginable 30 years ago” but “we need to speed up.” He deplored the UK government’s loss of credibility to deal with the crises facing us. “At a time when the government says it is leading the world it has cut its aid budget and has opened the door to fossil fuel development,” he lamented. The former head of Friends of the Earth UK also urged campaigners to consider all the linked elements of the environmental crises, such as loss of biodiversity, impact of extractive industries, and water contamination as well as climate change.

Mark Rotherham, of the Northern Dioceses Environmental Group, felt it essential we transform our current economic system so that it promotes both social equality and environmental protection. “A good life-sustaining economy is about slowly down and recognising planetary boundaries” he said. He described the arms industry as “a huge shadow over our nation” and felt that we need to withdraw legitimacy from this draw on global resources and energy.

NJPN Chair Paul Southgate, from Hexham and Newcastle, asked on the first evening, “what do we want to leave to our children?” Young university and school students told the conference they would like “less of fossil fuel companies pretending to care and schools accepting money from them”. They called for Catholics “to challenge the increasingly hostile policy towards refugees”, many of whom are victims of our actions in arms trading and raising global temperatures. One criticised “the detachment of our education system from real life” and the attitude that “the more money we have the more successful we are.”

Coming together for our common home

The chant, ‘We come together for our common home’, ran through the conference liturgies, and it was especially composed for NJPN by liturgical musician Marty Haugen. Action planning on the final morning included dioceses forming Laudato Si’ Action Platform groups, organising Climate Sunday Masses and liturgies during the Season of Creation, and urging divestment from fossil fuels. Inspiration was taken from a presentation by Emma Gardner, new Head of Environment in Salford Diocese, who manages the flagship Laudato Si’ Centre and stimulates environmental action in Salford’s parishes and schools. Many dioceses plan to connect with the Young Christian Climate Network (YCCN) pilgrimage to Glasgow and the Camino to COP26, setting off in September.

More than 20 stalls were available plus an opportunity for participants to measure their carbon footprints. Fifteen workshops explored such topics as: ‘Sustainable Development Goals,’ ‘Conflict and Environment,’ and a ‘Nature Explorer Walk’ with a botanist. “Let us all plant a tree or a flowering plant” and “do not waste energy” said young children at the concluding conference liturgy.

Since 2005, NJPN has regularly taken an environmental theme for the national conference and its Environment Working Group, formed that year, helped plan the 2021 conference.

With thanks to Ellen Teague for this conference report.