On eve of U.N. climate summit, Catholics join in calls for change

Pairs of shoes are symbolically placed on the Place de la Republique in Paris Nov. 29, ahead of the U.N. climate change conference, known as the COP21 summit, in Paris. (CNS photo/Eric Gaillard, Reuters)

Hundreds of thousands of people in at least 150 countries around the world demanded action on climate change on the eve of a U.N. conference that aimed to find agreement on greenhouse gas emissions.

Heads of state traveled to Paris for the Nov. 30-Dec. 11 Conference of Parties, or COP21, in the Paris suburb of Le Bourget. Catholic organizations advocating to protect the world and its people from the impact of climate change said the terror attacks in Paris had not dissuaded them from attending a major U.N. summit there.

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Interfaith leaders gathered in Saint-Denis, France, Nov. 28 to hand over a petition with more than 1.8 million signatures—800,000 collected by Catholic organizations—calling for action on climate change. At the event, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, president of the Pan-Amazonian Church Network, referred to Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," and to an October appeal by Catholic bishops worldwide that called "for a fair, binding and truly transformational climate agreement in Paris."

"We ask for drastic cuts of carbon emissions to keep the global temperature rise below the dangerous threshold of 1.5°C," the cardinal said. "As the bishops' appeal states, we need to 'put an end to the fossil fuel era' and 'set a goal for complete decarbonization by 2050.'

"And we ask wealthier countries to aid the world's poorest to cope with climate change impacts, by providing robust climate finance," he added.

Originally, hundreds of thousands were expected to march in Paris Nov. 29, but the march was canceled after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks. Instead, Parisians and others from around the world donated shoes and set them up at Place de la Republique. The display was disrupted as Paris police used tear gas to break up an unauthorized demonstration.

Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, who works at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, confirmed Pope Francis donated a signed pair of shoes to the display. Cardinal Hummes and Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, also signed and donated shoes.

From Seoul, South Korea, to Ottawa, Ontario; New York to Sao Paulo, people marched to demand a response to climate change. Some, like those in Oakland, California, marched more than a week ahead. Most advocates gathered Nov. 28-29, such as in Nairobi, Kenya, where people planted trees in Uhuru Park.

In Washington, about 500 people, including members of parishes in Washington, Maryland and northern Virginia, came out for a march around the White House Nov. 29. One couple, members of a parish in Los Altos, California, joined them after learning about the march from the Global Catholic Climate Movement. Many participants carried signs referring to "Laudato Si'."

In Ottawa, Ontario, and Vancouver, British Columbia, church leaders joined environmentalists and First Nations members in marches Nov. 29. In London, hundreds of supporters of CAFOD, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, braved wind and rain to join more than 50,000 marchers. CAFOD said the march included an interfaith service at Westminster Synagogue involving about 200 campaigners from Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist traditions, who reflected on the issues that united them and "recommitted themselves to caring for creation, for our neighbors and to tackling climate change."

In Manila, Philippines, dozens of religious added their voices to the cry of mostly Catholic activists during a climate march on a humid, overcast morning.

In the plaza across the street from Our Lady of Remedies Church, Sacred Heart Missionaries seminarian Reynon Ajero held up colorful signs that said "Resist the plunder of our environment" and a reference to the pope's "Laudato Si'."

Ajero said he grew up in a mountainous village in the southern province of Zamboanga del Norte populated with "plenty of diversity" in animals, trees and wild flowers. On Nov. 29, he lamented the significant loss of trees to mining and the disappearance of the animals from his childhood.

"I want to ask all the people to be awake," he told Catholic News Service. "I want make the people know that we are suffering for what is our mistake to our mother earth. So whatever we do to ourselves, we do to the mother earth, it will return to us."

This message in the plaza was played out over and over in singing, dance numbers and dramatizations of the impacts of the earth's rising temperatures.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo opened an outdoor Mass with a prayer of hope during the lighting of the first candle on an Advent wreath.

"Hope for the enlightenment of all peoples, that we are just a strand in the web of life, that what we do to the environment, we do to ourselves," said Bishop Pabillo.

Lou Arsenio, head of the Manila Archdiocese Ecology Ministry and one of the originators of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, since the movement started about a year ago, she has seen greater awareness among Catholics, but she told Catholic News Service there is more work to do.

In Melbourne, Australia, Nov. 27, more than 40,000 people marched in the city's central business district to call for action on climate change. A statement on the website of the Archdiocese of Melbourne said Catholics were at the forefront of the march. Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, former president of Caritas Internationalis, told the crowd: "We were given a garden. We may not deliver back a desert."

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