Catholic Environmental Group Debuts as Pope Visits Philippines

STORM DAMAGE. the destroyed cathedral in Palo, Philippines—Typhoon Haiyan was one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded.

A worldwide campaign is emerging among Catholic individuals and organizations concerned about climate change and protecting the environment. The Global Catholic Climate Movement went public on Jan. 14, coinciding with the visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, planned to deliver the global Catholic effort’s belief and mission statement to the pope in a private meeting sometime during the pope’s Jan. 15-19 visit to the country, said organization leaders. While in the Philippines, the pope planned to meet survivors of one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded. Typhoon Haiyan, fed by warming of the ocean, which scientists attribute to human-induced climate change, devastated a wide swath of the central Philippines in November 2013.

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Pope Francis is “deeply interested in the issue. It’s not something new,” said Pablo Canziani, senior scientist at Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council, adding that Pope Francis understands that the issues of climate change and human development are intertwined. “You have to work on both together,” said Canziani, who discussed technical climate change issues several times with Pope Francis when the pope was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The movement includes nearly two dozen Catholic leaders and organizations in Africa, Asia, Australia, North America and South America. U.S. partners include the Franciscan Action Network, CatholicEcology.net, Catholic Rural Life, GreenFaith and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

The new organization will connect people around the world to carry out programs rooted in Catholic teaching on environmental concerns, said Allen Ottaro, co-founder and executive director of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa, based in Nairobi, Kenya.

The effort also is meant to support the pope as he prepares an encyclical on the environment, anticipated in July, Ottaro said. “I would imagine that the pope would feel the accompaniment of lay Catholics and religious and organizations in different parts of the world,” Ottaro said. “We hope that it would be a living document, that it would not end up on shelves, that it would be lived and preached.”

The movement’s introductory statement draws from Scripture and Catholic social teaching. It underscores the importance of action to mitigate climate change backed by prayer and reflection. “Our collaboration echoes the global dimensions of the Catholic Church and a shared sense of responsibility to care for God’s beautiful, life-giving creation. We are inspired by church teachings and guided by the virtue of prudence—understood by St. Thomas Aquinas as ‘right reason applied to action,’” the statement said.

“So in light of growing scientific evidence and real-world experiences, we offer our prayer for God’s healing grace as we work in the world to care and advocate for the needy and all creation,” it said.

The organization plans to invite Catholics to fast and pray for solutions to climate change during Lent. Patrick Carolan, executive director of the U.S.-based Franciscan Action Network, said a rolling fast is being planned with Catholics in a different country each day centering their actions on the environment during Lent. One day also will be set aside for Catholics worldwide to fast and pray together.

Carolan said the organization formed after various Catholic organizations from around the world participated in the People’s Climate March in September in New York. “It’s all part of the global mission of protecting creation,” he explained. “We’re all connected, and we’re seeing more and more that what happens to somebody in Bangladesh affects someone in the United States.”

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