Pope hosts 40 faith leaders for climate appeal launch

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 October, 2021 at 2:20 pm by Andre Camilleri

Vanya Walker-Leigh

Four days after Pope Francis hosted 40 religious leaders of all faiths on 4 October to co-sign a historic Joint Appeal for urgent action on environmental issues, it was announced that he would not attend the forthcoming 120-strong heads of state and government summit at the start of the 197-nation UN COP 26 climate change conference in Glasgow (31 October-12 November).

His possible attendance had been previously indicated back in May not only by the Catholic Church of Scotland and US climate change envoy John Kerry but by the Pope himself, who stated in a subsequent interview that “I intend to go if my health permits” and that his statement was being prepared.

However, a Vatican-accredited journalist told this paper that “in the end faith leaders felt that everything that could be achieved was achieved with the Pope hosting them. There was no more to be gained by a major show at the COP”. Nevertheless, the Holy See is a Permanent Observer State at the United Nations and its delegation to the Glasgow meeting will be headed by Pietro Cardinal Parolin, the Secretary of State (head of the Holy See government).

The Faith and Science: towards COP 26 Joint Appeal launched at the Apostolic Palace on the Feast of St Francis (4 October) emerged from a series of virtual discussions over several months between religious leaders and scientists co-organised by the Vatican and the Holy See embassies of the two COP 26 presidency nations – the UK and Italy.

In his statement to the gathering Pope Francis said that: “COP26 in Glasgow represents an urgent summons to provide effective responses to the unprecedented ecological crisis and the crisis of values that we are presently experiencing, and in this way to offer concrete hope to future generations. We want to accompany it with our commitment and our spiritual closeness.”

“The challenge to work for a culture of care for our common home, but also for ourselves, is one that inspires hope, for surely humanity has never possessed as many means for achieving this goal as it possesses today. Today’s meeting can only strengthen our realization that we are members of one human family. Each of us has his or her religious beliefs and spiritual traditions, but no cultural, political or social borders or barriers prevent us from standing together. Let us commit ourselves to a future shaped by interdependence and co-responsibility”.

In addition to urging action by governments and all other stakeholders the Appeal also announces commitments by religious leaders.

These include: bringing about a change of heart in the way they relate to the earth and to other people (ecological conversion); advancing the crucial educational and cultural transformation; participating actively and appropriately in the public and political discourse on environmental issues; striving to align their financial investments with environmentally and socially responsible standards; ensuring greater accountability and transparency as the tendency to move away from investments in fossil fuels and toward investments in renewable energy and restorative agriculture; evaluating all goods and services purchased or hired; raising awareness about the need to examine their banking, insurance and investment choices and to correct them in line with the values proclaimed in the Appeal.

“Faith and science are essential pillars of human civilization,” the Appeal states “with shared principles and complementarities. Together, we must address the threats facing our common home. The warnings from the scientific community are becoming increasingly stark and clear, as is the need for concrete steps to be taken. Scientists say that time is running out. Global temperatures have already risen to the point where the planet is warmer than at any time in the last 200,000 years.”

“Scientists have warned us that there might be only one decade left to restore the planet.  We pray that our human family may unite to save our common home before it is too late.”

“The world is called to achieve net zero carbon emissions as soon as possible, with wealthier countries taking the lead in reducing their own emissions and in financing emission reductions from poorer nations. It is important that all governments adopt a trajectory that will limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. To achieve these goals of the Paris Agreement, the COP26 Summit should deliver ambitious short-term actions from all nations with differentiated responsibilities. There is also an urgent need to deliver action to meet its medium- and long-term commitments.”

“We appeal to everyone on this planet to join us on this common journey, knowing well that what we can achieve depends not only on opportunities and resources, but also on hope, courage, solidarity and good will.”

Most religious leaders attending the launch also made short statements, with a further six from Asia sending video messages. The leader of the 85-million Anglican Communion present in 165 countries, former oil executive Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, urged the financial industry to “repent of its past sins” and support the transformation to a green economy.

Whether the religious leaders will continue to meet virtually and launch further joint actions has yet to be decided, following a closed meeting for the religious leaders on the afternoon of 4 October hosted by the Italian embassy to the Holy See.  Speaking on condition of anonymity, a participant told this reporter that a series of short presentations were followed by discussion with calls .to continue meeting and fund a secretariat. “Perhaps the document was a discrete piece of work for a moment in time (COP26) and post COP there may be other things that religious leaders might wish to do,” the participant stated.

The Curia of the Church of Malta has been contacted for a comment on the document from Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna.

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