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Ricardo da Silva, S.J.October 29, 2021
Pope Francis records BBC Radio 4 "Thought for the Day" message. (Screenshot, Vatican News Youtube channel)

Radio listeners in the United Kingdom started the day with an unexpected voice this morning when they were greeted by Pope Francis in an exclusive message for BBC listeners and world leaders ahead of the COP26 climate summit which gets underway in Glasgow, Scotland on Sunday, Oct. 31.

“Dear BBC listeners, good morning!” said the pope in a message pre-recorded in Italian from his office at the Vatican. 

Climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic have exposed our deep vulnerability and raised numerous doubts and concerns about our economic systems and the way we organize our societies. We have lost our sense of security, and are experiencing a sense of powerlessness and loss of control over our lives.

Pope Francis: Climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic have exposed our deep vulnerability and raised numerous doubts and concerns about our economic systems.

The pope’s message was aired for the first time on the popular BBC Radio 4 morning show, “Today,” within a segment called “Thought for the Day,” a less-than-three-minute scripted slot that, the BBC says, offers “reflections from a faith perspective on issues and people in the news.” Radio listening figures released on Oct. 28, reveal that, from July to September this year, the show has attracted about 6.5 million listeners.

The COP climate summit takes place annually—with the exception of last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic—and brings together representatives of the 197 nations and territories that have signed on to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change treaty, ratified in 1994.

Each year these influential global players gather to discuss common goals on climate change and to assess how they, as signatories to the convention, are faring in the critical fight to reverse radical climate change. This year’s summit, COP26, is crucial as it comes barely three months after the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres sounded “a code red for humanity.”

COP26 is crucial as it comes barely three months after the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres sounded “a code red for humanity.”

Pope Francis, commenting in this morning’s message about the challenge before those who will gather in Glasgow, raised a similar concern but preserved hope of “a real chance for change, a genuine moment of conversion, and not simply in a spiritual sense.”

Despite the ambitious climate targets set at COP21, also known for the 2015 Paris Accord— where a global compact was signed to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (approximately 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit)—the latest authoritative scientific assessment report on climate change offers a bleak view. “Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” the compilers of the report said, “limiting warming to close to 1.5 degress Celsius or even 2 degrees Celsius will be beyond reach.”

Watch: Why the COP26 climate conference matters for Catholics

 

Pope Francis’ appearance this morning was not the first time the head of the worldwide Catholic Church has occupied the famed radio slot on British airwaves. On Christmas Eve 2010, Pope Benedict XVI greeted the morning listeners, “recalling with great fondness my four-day visit to the United Kingdom last September,” said the pope emeritus, referring to his first visit to the U.K. “And indeed to greet listeners everywhere as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ.”

Other notable religious leaders who have been heard in the morning faith segment are Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster and the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and the Most Rev. Justin Welby, who as the archbishop Canterbury leads the Church of England and is the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Both their Anglican and Catholic predecessors, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams and Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, have also recorded messages for the show.

Pope Francis’ appearance this morning was not the first time the head of the worldwide Catholic Church has occupied the famed radio slot on British airwaves.

Jonathan Sacks, who served as the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013 and was knighted in 2005 by Queen Elizabeth II, was a frequent contributor to the segment. His closing words on one of his final segments on the program, before he died of cancer-related complications on Nov. 7, 2020, echo much of the sentiment Pope Francis shared with listeners this morning:

I hope that’s what happens now, that we build a fairer society, where human values count as much as economic ones. We’ve been through too much simply to go back to where we were. We have to rescue some blessing from the curse, some hope from the pain.

Pope Francis, ending his message this morning, similarly, warned:

“Humanity has never before had at its disposal so many means for achieving this goal. The political decision makers who will meet at COP26 in Glasgow are urgently summoned to provide effective responses to the present ecological crisis and in this way to offer concrete hope to future generations.”

The official English translation of the pope’s “Thought for the Day:” 

Dear BBC listeners, good morning!

Climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic have exposed our deep vulnerability and raised numerous doubts and concerns about our economic systems and the way we organize our societies.

We have lost our sense of security, and are experiencing a sense of powerlessness and loss of control over our lives.

We find ourselves increasingly frail and even fearful, caught up in a succession of “crises” in the areas of health care, the environment, food supplies and the economy, to say nothing of social, humanitarian and ethical crises. All these crises are profoundly interconnected. They also forecast a “perfect storm” that could rupture the bonds holding our society together within the greater gift of God’s creation.

Every crisis calls for vision, the ability to formulate plans and put them rapidly into action, to rethink the future of the world, our common home, and to reassess our common purpose.

These crises present us with the need to take decisions, radical decisions that are not always easy. At the same time, moments of difficulty like these also present opportunities, opportunities that we must not waste.

We can confront these crises by retreating into isolationism, protectionism and exploitation. Or we can see in them a real chance for change, a genuine moment of conversion, and not simply in a spiritual sense.

This last approach alone can guide us towards a brighter horizon. Yet it can only be pursued through a renewed sense of shared responsibility for our world, and an effective solidarity based on justice, a sense of our common destiny and a recognition of the unity of our human family in God’s plan for the world.

All this represents an immense cultural challenge. It means giving priority to the common good, and it calls for a change in perspective, a new outlook, in which the dignity of every human being, now and in the future, will guide our ways of thinking and acting.

The most important lesson we can take from these crises is our need to build together, so that there will no longer be any borders, barriers or political walls for us to hide behind. As we all know, we never emerge from a crisis alone, without others.
Some days ago, on October 4, I met with religious leaders and scientists to sign a Joint Appeal in which we called upon ourselves and our political leaders to act in a more responsible and consistent manner. I was impressed by something said by one of the scientists present at that meeting. He told us: “If things continue as they are, in fifty years’ time my baby granddaughter will have to live in an unliveable world.”

We cannot allow this to happen!

It is essential that each of us be committed to this urgent change of direction, sustained by our own faith and spirituality. In the Joint Appeal, we spoke of the need to work responsibly towards a “culture of care” for our common home, but also for ourselves, and the need to work tirelessly to eliminate “the seeds of conflicts: greed, indifference, ignorance, fear, injustice, insecurity and violence.”

Humanity has never before had at its disposal so many means for achieving this goal. The political decision makers who will meet at COP26 in Glasgow are urgently summoned to provide effective responses to the present ecological crisis and in this way to offer concrete hope to future generations. And it is worth repeating that each of us – whoever and wherever we may be – can play our own part in changing our collective response to the unprecedented threat of climate change and the degradation of our common home.

Correction, Oct. 29, 2021: The article has been updated to include the correct number of listeners to Today between July and September of this year. The show attracted 6.5 million listeners each week, not 6.5 million total.

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