Prayers, Patrons and the Paris Agreement

Protesters carry a globe-shaped balloon in front of Rome's Colosseum during a Nov. 29 rally, the day before the start of the U.N. climate change conference in Paris. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters) See COP21-VATICAN-PAROLIN Dec. 1, 2015.

Protesters carry a globe-shaped balloon in front of Rome’s Colosseum during a Nov. 29 rally, the day before the start of the U.N. climate change conference in Paris. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

This year something special happened the day after the Feast of St. Francis, and one could even wonder if it had anything to do with the saint’s patronage. “This is a momentous occasion,” said United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “What once seemed unthinkable, is now unstoppable.” On October 5, 2016, the so-called Paris Agreement, or COP21, was ratified. The Paris Agreement refers to negotiations between 195 countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions globally. The non-binding agreement establishes that nations must reduce their carbon dioxide emissions in order to keep global temperatures well below a two-degree Celsius increase in relation to pre-industrial levels. Once 55 countries representing over 55% of the worlds emissions signed the agreement, it would be ratified. That ratification threshold was reached on October 5, 2016, when the European Union signed the agreement. The agreement will now be implemented on November 4, one month after the Feast of St. Francis. But the story of the Catholic relationship to the Paris agreement is more than a happy coincidence of dates.

Days before the Paris meeting in December, 2015, Pope Francis said: “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all…Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods; it represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day (Laudato Si’, 23 and 25) … In a few days an important meeting on climate change will be held in Paris, where the international community as such will once again confront these issues. It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail over the common good and lead to manipulating information in order to protect their own plans and projects.”

Pope Francis was a champion of the Paris meeting from the beginning and called on political leaders to rise to the challenge to reach a global agreement. The Italian minister of the environment, Gian Luca Galletti, affirmed the Paris agreement might not have happened without Pope Francis. In his own speech at the Paris meeting the minister reminded all members that the pope in “His encyclical letter Laudato Si’ has offered to us the highest moral contribution on the environmental question.” The pope shifted the conversation about climate change from economic, political, scientific, and legal issues into a broader moral and ethical debate, which allowed everyone to participate. This change in tone and substance made room for a global conversation, and also a global agreement, to which no one could be indifferent.

Christians can celebrate this important agreement as not only a sign of promise for reducing pollution and protecting the environment, but also as a sign of unity among nations, collaboration, and mutual understanding. However, this agreement is only one step on a long road. Pope Francis is also a practical man, and commenting on the Paris agreement he warns of the danger of much talk and little action: “I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements. Solemn commitments, however, are not enough, although they are certainly a necessary step toward solutions… we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective.”

In order to be “truly effective” in implementing the Paris agreement the task at hand is tremendous. The underlying assumption is that to be able to stay below a two-degree temperature increase what is necessary is that the world reach a net zero emission of carbon somewhere between 2050 and 2100. This simply means a complete overhaul of the global energy system as we know it. Cardinal Turkson, recognized as responsible for drafting Laudato Si’, is well aware of the consequences: “the global community has drawn a red line under a rise in global temperatures of two degrees Celsius. This is will require a complete shift away from fossil fuels toward renewables by about 2070. This is a momentous undertaking.” The pope himself mentioned that the Paris Agreement “represents an important stage in the process of developing a new energy system which depends on a minimal use of fossil fuels, aims at energy efficiency, and makes use of energy sources with little or no carbon content. We are faced with a great political and economic obligation to rethink and correct the dysfunctions and distortions of the current model of development.”

Now it is up to each country, each region and legislature, and ultimately each person, to discern in their own realities how it is they are to contribute to this common cause. Politicians will have their hands full deliberating on how this “momentous task” is to be reached. Furthermore, we must remember that for the pope, the environmental goal of reducing carbon emissions is not a stand-alone cause, but must be integrated into other goals and oriented by higher principles. This “integral ecology” is the organizing logic of Laudato Si’ and articulates the Catholic Church’s support for environmental causes while always ensuring the well-being of people and respect for God himself. The efforts to address climate change must have the dignity of the human person, every person and the whole person, front and center. In Pope Francis’ own words:

“I express my hope that COP21 will achieve a global and “transformational” agreement based on the principles of solidarity, justice, equality and participation; an agreement which targets three complex and interdependent goals: lessening the impact of climate change, fighting poverty and ensuring respect for human dignity… government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and all other civil rights… These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.”

Ricardo Simmonds, Environmental Policy Advisor, USCCB

Ricardo Simmonds is the Environmental Policy Advisor for the Office of Domestic Social Development, within the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the USCCB.


Going Deeper

Learn ways you and your community can help care for Creation with these ten practical suggestions from the Diocese of Stockton.

The Enchantment of Assisi

Ricardo Simmonds, Environmental Policy Advisor, USCCB

Ricardo Simmonds, Environmental Policy Advisor, USCCB

Thirty years ago in Assisi, on October 27, 1986, Pope John Paul II sponsored a historic meeting among the world’s religious leaders to pray for peace. “On that day I heard the world’s heart-beat,” said a cardinal. To describe the historic event, the Polish Pope coined the term “spirit of Assisi” and the meetings with world religious leaders have been repeated by popes ever since.

Last week it was up to the Pope called Francis, who broke a one-thousand-year tradition in papal nomenclature to honor the saint of Assisi[1], to sponsor the event. The “spirit of Assisi” and its call for ecumenical unity was already evident in the ecological encyclical Laudato si’, named after a canticle pronounced by the Umbrian saint. Humility, simplicity, brotherhood, and care for the poor and for creation have all been hallmarks of the current papacy. In fact, a quick look at the ecclesial landscape of today gives the impression that St. Francis seems as relevant and revolutionary as he was eight hundred years ago when he walked through the forests of Umbria.

Speaking from personal experience, it almost feels like Francis is living and breathing in those forests to this day. This summer I walked the Via Francigena (Franciscan Way) from Rome to Assisi along the very same paths travelled by the saint. From the moment I encountered the first Franciscan shrine on the Via, the monastery called La Foresta (the forest), I felt like I had stepped into an enchanted world. At La Foresta one can kneel in the ancient chapel where Francis prayed and wind down into the cave where he composed the famous Canticle of the Sun, Laudato si’… This enchanted aura persisted for the next ten days as I weaved my way through olive groves and medieval villages all the way to La Verna in Tuscany, where St. Francis received the stigmata.

Perhaps I was so struck by this enchantment because of the contrast with the empty sterility of the world outside[2]. This sense of loss and indifference in the world was the point of Pope Francis’ prophetic address last week at the birthplace of his namesake: “God asks this of us, calling us to confront the great sickness of our time: indifference. It is a virus that paralyzes, rendering us lethargic and insensitive, a disease that eats away at the very heart of religious fervour, giving rise to a new and deeply sad paganism: the paganism of indifference.”

St. Francis, with his life and witness, proposed an antidote to the malaise of indifference. As a young wealthy man, Francis of Assisi was “upset” with the opulence of his time and decided to live a life of simplicity. The Pope suggests that St. Francis associated the indifference to the suffering of the poor with the indifference shown to Jesus himself: it was the love of Christ who was being rejected. The Pope explained: “ ‘Love is not loved’; this reality, according to some accounts, is what upset Saint Francis of Assisi. For love of the suffering Lord, he was not ashamed to cry out and grieve loudly (cf. Fonti Francescane, no. 1413). This same reality must be in our hearts as we contemplate Christ Crucified, he who thirsts for love… Before Christ Crucified, ‘the power and wisdom of God’ (1 Cor 1:24), we Christians are called to contemplate the mystery of Love not loved and to pour out mercy upon the world.”

The key to the enchantment of Assisi is the love that comes from Christ crucified. This is the secret recipe to the grace that flowed from the man of Umbria and enchanted the world around him. Like St. Francis, we are called to do the same: “On the cross, the tree of life, evil was transformed into good; we too, as disciples of the Crucified One, are called to be ‘trees of life’ that absorb the contamination of indifference and restore the pure air of love to the world.” We must be these “trees of life” in a dying world. But concretely, how can this be done?

Pope Francis gave a very specific answer earlier this month: “there is nothing that unites us to God more than an act of mercy…” In this same address which opened the Season of Creation[3] the Pope introduced a new item on the list of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. “So let me propose a complement to the two traditional sets of seven: may the works of mercy also include care for our common home. As a spiritual work of mercy, care for our common home calls for a ‘grateful contemplation of God’s world’ (Laudato Si, 214) which ‘allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us’ (ibid., 85). As a corporal work of mercy, care for our common home requires ‘simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness’ and ‘makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world’ (ibid., 230-31).”

If we want to become “trees of life” in this world, inhaling indifference and exhaling love, we need to unite ourselves to the “Tree of Life”, Jesus Christ.

The small quotidian gestures such as picking up trash, contemplating nature on an afternoon walk, recycling and reusing, enjoying the starlit sky and turning off unnecessary lights can unite us to the gentle reverence of Jesus Christ. This love in action can also lead us to greater awareness of the needs of others and acts of mercy and solidarity towards them.

Like a great Poinciana tree, composed of miniscule leaves that inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen, these small acts of love can begin to breathe life into an indifferent world.


Ricardo Simmonds is the Environmental Policy Advisor for the Office of Domestic Social Development, within the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the USCCB.

Going Deeper

Visit the USCCB Environmental Justice Program page.

Check out organizations supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development working for environmental justice.

[1] The last Pope to choose a new papal name was Pope Lando in 913. I am excluding John Paul I who in 1978 chose to honor his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI, by combining their names.

[2] The reflection on the disenchantment of modernity is not new, and in the background we can hear the voices of Schiller, Max Weber, Charles Taylor and others who explored the many reasons why life in our secularized modern world can feel stale and empty at times.

[3] The Season of Creation begins on September 1st and ends on October 4th, Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

A prayer for creation

Contemplating the sunrise when we crossed the Tyrolean Alps

Contemplating the sunrise when we crossed the Tyrolean Alps

Let me begin with a little known story about the Pope. When Pope Francis was a young priest in Argentina, he was appointed rector of the Jesuit seminary. One of the first things he did was to convert the seminary grounds into a farm where “students collected honey, milked cows, and cleaned out the pigsty [and] where they often met the rector in his plastic boots.” For young Fr. Bergoglio caring for the farm meant learning humility, being in touch with the poor, feeding the hungry, and finding an ideal space for prayer and contemplation – a place where the word of the Gospel became flesh. One could make the case that the Pope’s encyclical Laudato si’ and integral ecology were already taking shape in his farm experiment. The experiment worked: the seminary boomed and there was a huge increase in vocations.

The idea that Christian prayer must be connected to the created world is also central to Pope Francis’ message for the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation”, whose one-year anniversary we celebrate today. Quoting Laudato si’ the Pope reminded us that “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature” and that Christians are called to a profound “spiritual conversion… whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.” Doesn’t this sound like something the Pope could be teaching the seminarians at the farm?

More important than the farm itself is the ideal that lies behind it, which has to do with the relationship between prayer and creation. I will call this ideal “prayer in the flesh”, taken from the title of a talk by Fr. Bergoglio. His point was that some Christians are unaware that they suffer from a modern heresy he calls ‘neodocetism’ and that we need to bring prayer to the level of concreteness, to the level of our bodies. We can pray when we touch the hands of a beggar, walk on trails, clean a pigsty, eat with the hungry, milk a cow, look at the sky, etc. Jesus is present in these moments when our flesh engages everyday reality. As in Bergoglio’s farm, care for creation can serve as a locus for us to live ‘a spirituality of the flesh.’

This summer I took this ideal of ‘prayer in the flesh’ and decided to put it into practice. I invited three young men and a guide to undertake a pioneer pilgrimage for the Year of Mercy. In May we left from Rome on foot and walked to Krakow for World Youth Day on July 25th. We walked every day for two-plus months covering over 2000 km (about the distance from Washington, DC to Dallas, TX) along a ‘scenic route’ through Italy, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, and Poland. This pilgrimage was certainly an experience of prayer for creation: we prayed together and alone, during the day as we walked and stopped at shrines, during Mass and adoration. But we also prayed in creation: through the beauty of landscapes, incredible churches, and art– and prayed in the flesh: through blisters, injuries, weight loss, sores and muscles, and even the in gratitude for the incredible food.

What did I get out of this experience of ‘prayer in the flesh’? So many things which I cannot fit into a short blog post. But I can share one important lesson I learned: patience. You just have to learn patience on a trip like this because everything just takes so long! It would take about two days by car and two hours by airplane to cover the same distance we walked in two months. Impatience, resentment, complaints, weakness, stoicism, grumbling, and long faces don’t really get you any further any faster. All you can do is put on a good face in the morning and walk your ‘today’ until tomorrow comes. If it rains, you take a break. If it rains all day, you get wet. If you go without dinner, you try to get a big breakfast the next morning. You learn that God is in charge and He doesn’t always give us what we want, but always gives us what we need. And this… requires… patience. A long pilgrimage like this is a masterful lesson in patience that is learned because it is lived in the flesh.

The day I arrived in Krakow I gave a presentation about Laudato si’ and our pilgrimage for the Year of Mercy. I was lucky to have a brief chat with a cardinal, and he asked me only one question: “So what did you learn about mercy?” After bumbling around for an answer a word came forth from the inside: “patience.” Mercy takes patience, the kind of patience of the father who is waiting, for years, for the prodigal son to arrive. “Merciful like the Father” is also “Patient like the Father” – not anxious or stressed waiting, but hopeful waiting. It’s not the impatience of the prodigal son, nor the resentful and fake patience of the older brother. These are not the rhythms of mercy.

This was the lesson I learned through my ‘prayer in the flesh’ and the one God had in store for me. But Jesus has many lessons in store for each one of us. And, we don’t have to go on long journeys to distant places to find them, but only look at the concrete world around us in the circumstances and places we live, and make a decision to do something incarnate with our prayer: celebrating a meal with friends, gardening, spending an evening in the park with the family, cleaning the garage, or going for a walk. These of course must be accompanied by encounters with Jesus Christ at Mass, adoration, confession, biblical reading, prayer groups, etc. But the Pope’s emphasis lies in the invitation for us to bring our prayer into the flesh.

For this second World Day of Prayer for the Care for Creation the Vatican suggests the following prayers. And the Season of Creation we begin today is a wonderful time for us to bring this prayer into our daily lives.

ricardo simmondsRicardo Simmonds is the Environmental Policy Advisor for the Office of Domestic Social Development, within the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the USCCB.

New skills helped me engage my community on Laudato Si’

Valeria Fuentes

Valeria Fuentes

Last week, the Social Action Summer Institute took place in Chicago.  Last summer, I received a grant as an alumnus of the CCHD internship program, to attend the 2015 institute, held in Portland, Oregon. It was an amazing experience which helped me to develop new knowledge of Catholic social teaching, and new skills in education and advocacy.

When I returned from SASI, I worked, under the guidance of CCHD in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, to educate Latinos in Baltimore about Pope Francis’ encyclical on Laudato Si’, help them apply those teachings in their daily lives, and learn how they can advocate for environmental justice in their communities.

Because of these opportunities, I am now working on climate justice in Maryland with an organization that focuses on helping Latinos become more involved in environmental advocacy. I am working in my own Baltimore community to arrange informal house meetings and workshops called cafecitos, where Latino families and youth learn how to use their voices to protect and care for the environment. Through this work, I believe that I can help give a voice to those who often think they do not have a voice.

Valeria Fuentes is a former intern with CCHD and  Catholic Relief Services. She is a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where she also works as student program manager for the Office of Diversity and Intercultural Development.


Going Deeper 

Find out more about the CCHD Intern Program, which has provided leadership and training for over 350 emerging leaders to date.

Laudato Si’ at Ascension: Promoting Care for Creation

sun-hat-957895_1920Pope Francis’ visionary ecological encyclical, written to the people of the world, energized this environmental and peace and justice activist in a dynamic way. He reminds us that care for the earth and people who are poor is our duty, rooted in solidly Catholic social teaching.  Pope Francis and Laudato Si’ inspired me so much that I came back to my parish to support and lead new environmental efforts.

It’s a lot of time and work, yet there’s no work more important for the planet. Now we have a visionary encyclical to back us up!  At Ascension Parish in Oak Park, Illinois, we formed the Honoring Our Mother Earth (HOME) green team as an outgrowth of our long-standing and active Peace and Justice ministry. HOME’s vision and actions are a perfect way to care for Creation, our common home.

We scattered seeds to see what would take root and blossom. Here are some of the strategies our 27-member HOME team engaged in: Continue reading

10 Ways You Can Celebrate Earth Day!

three women extend their armfulls of green leaves with white text: "Whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone." (93) #LaudatoSi Photo from Jennifer Hardy, CRSEarth Day (April 22)  is the perfect time to help Catholics in your area respond to Pope Francis’ call to “be ‘protectors’ of creation”!

Here are ten ways you can celebrate Earth Day!

1. Get Catholic Climate Covenant’s free, downloadable Earth Day 2016 Program Guide.

2. Watch the video on Care for God’s Creation from the Catholic Social Teaching 101 video series by Catholic Relief Servics and USCCB.

3. With family or friends, pray this Laudato Si’ prayer in English  and Spanish.

4. Use these resources for liturgy and preaching on the Sunday before or after Earth Day to call attention to our role in caring for God’s creation.

preschool children at a Catholic school use a watering can to water seedlings as they learn about Care for creation

5. Learn how local community organizations, including those funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, are addressing environmental issues. Join their efforts!

6. Gather with a group of friends and reflect on Laudato Si’ using USCCB’s discussion guide in English and Spanish.

bright and colorful covers of two illustrated children's books "Green Street Park" and "Drop by Drop" with URL loyolapress.com/twofeetoflove7. Gift Green Street Park or Drop by Drop to your parish’s religious education program or school.  Both of these children’s books are about kids caring for creation.

8. Get inspired by what others are doing to Act Together to care for creation.

Pope Francis carries his crosier held together with a splint and tape as he arrives in procession to celebrate Mass at Kosevo stadium in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, June 6. The photo is accompanied by white text: "We are not faced with two separate crises, one envronmental and the other social, but one rather complex crisis which is both social and environmental." Laudato Si #139 (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

9. Share this Laudato Si’ bullet insert, in English and Spanish, in your parish.

10. Advocate! Participate in this current action alert.

 

How will you celebrate Earth Day? Let us know in the comments below.

The Devastating Effect of Irresponsible Mining Practices

miningFor over forty years, I ministered around the Appalachian coalfields. Because of this, I was invited to Rome, July 17-19, 2015, to represent the mountains at “United with God, We Hear a Cry,” a conference dealing with communities affected by mining activities.

Sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in collaboration with the Latin American “Churches and Mining” network, the meeting convened grass-roots representatives from 18 countries: Chile, Peru, Brazil, Columbia, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Mexico, United States, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, Mozambique, Ghana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, and the Philippines.

Transnational mining corporations exert disproportionate power over most local communities with negative results, which raises grave concerns for Rome. Too frequently, the mining practices violate the human rights of workers, destroy local environments, introduce negative health impacts, greatly enable substance abuse, allow prostitution and human trafficking, threaten local cultures, and have ties to organized crime.

After citing many of these abuses, Pope Francis in a letter to the participants stated clearly: “The entire mining sector is undoubtedly required to effect a radical paradigm change to improve the situation in many countries.”

The stories from the participants underscored that sentiment.

A representative from the native peoples of Canada said a breached mine tailing dam in upper British Columbia released 25 million cubic meters of debris into Lake William and polluted the crystal clear lake where 80 million salmon spawn.

Worse, a Philippine village witnessed the killing of the mayor’s wife and two sons, because he opposed the mining practices. Others in the village received the “blanket” threat–the symbol of wrapping for death. Continuously participants told stories from mining practices. They told about violence, dishonesty, and theft, besides testimonials about pollution, destruction, and sickness.

Shortly after returning from Rome, I toured with Bishop John Stowe, our new bishop of Lexington, KY, around the nearby coalfields. We heard stories similar to those from the international conference.

One family we met contracted with a company to mine 70 acres for coal, but instead saw the company illegally mine 90 acres, allegedly because the company changed the property map.

Another fellow said the blasting from mining caused a separation in his brick home large enough to put his fist into the gap.

Still another complained the mining company never paid him the agreed amount for the coal that they mined. Instead, he found the payments delayed until the company declared bankruptcy, and then he witnessed operations resumed under a different name without the liability.

Add to these stories the discarded miners with black lung, the numerous kids with asthma and the increased rates of cancer for women attributed to mining practices, and we can see that Appalachia unfortunately shares much of the same dishonesty, theft, and despoiled environment that breeds sickness and human distress discussed at the international conference.

On the local level, Catholic parishes not only respond to victims of mining-induced floods and mudslides always by supplying temporary shelters and home furnishings, but also conducting community prayer services. These services bring spiritual healing and insight by directing prayer against mining injustices.

Nationally, people of faith must awaken to the link between the demand for mine products and their lifestyles.

Conference participants acknowledged the need to train bishops, priests, and seminarians about Laudato Sí, and extend this to all the faithful. Dialogue within the church and with mining interests remains key, while divestiture from businesses supporting bad practices requires action.

Ultimately, we people of faith must reflect the teachings from Laudato Sí and pursue an integral ecology that links the poor, the earth, and human community in the web of life. 

headshot of Fr. John Rausch

 

Fr. John Rausch, a Glenmary priest, teaches, writes and organizes around justice issues in Appalachia.