A Successful Vatican Climate Change Forum, Mostly
With a goal of establishing common perspectives between faith leaders, politicians, and scientists, Pope Francis hosted a Climate Change Symposium at the Vatican on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Entitled Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: the Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development, the interfaith, interdisciplinary symposium was organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Religions for Peace, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Network. The Vatican Symposium went off without a hitch, mostly – gatecrashers from the Heartland Institute provided a little impromptu entertainment for Pope Francis and his guests.
Of the officially invited, more than 100 governmental diplomats, official policy makers, business leaders, religious leaders, and scientists participated in the Vatican climate change forum. Ecuador’s President Correa and Italy’s President Mattarella also attended, and Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, gave the opening address. Thanking Pope Francis for his warm welcome, UNSG Ban also offered his appreciation to all of the scientists and faith leaders present, “for raising awareness of the urgent need to promote sustainable development and address climate.”
Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: the Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development
“Climate change is the defining issue of our time,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced. “It is a moral issue. It is an issue of social justice, human rights and fundamental ethics. We have a profound responsibility to protect the fragile web of life on this Earth, and to this generation and those that will follow.”
Continuing, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “That is why it is so important that the world’s faith groups are clear on this issue — and in harmony with science.” He added, “Science and religion are not at odds on climate change. Indeed, they are fully aligned. Together, we must clearly communicate that the science of climate change is deep, sound and not in doubt.”
Delivering the keynote address for the Vatican Climate Change Symposium was Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace President Cardinal Peter Turkson. Cardinal Turkson extended an invitation for the forum delegates to explore the moral dimensions of climate change and sustainable development.
Emphasizing the need for a new direction towards sustainable development, Turkson called for a shared “holistic and ethical approach that links economic prosperity, social inclusion, and protection of the natural world.” Eloquently reciting from the Bible’s Book of Isaiah, Turkson quoted, “the earth languishes for the sins of man.”
An Interfaith Sharing of Sacred Views at the Vatican
It was a successful day of multi-disciplinary, interfaith coalition building and sharing of sacred views on creation, with many common perspectives and visionary goals. Anthony Annett reported in Commonweal Magazine of many religious leaders’ speeches at the Vatican Climate Change Symposium.
Olaf Tveit, from the World Council of Churches, spoke about hope founded on a belief in the day of judgement when “sin and death will not have the last word.” Tveit called for “the empowering of young people to spread this message of hope.”
Representing Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Metropolitan Emmanuel noted that “to protect humanity is to protect creation, and to protect creation is to protect humanity.” The Metropolitan added that he saw climate change “as a sign of spiritual blindness.” He offered a solution of “true metanoia,” in which “love of neighbor takes precedence over habits of selfishness.”
Swami Theertha, representing Hinduism, noted that “the only real solution to our problems is a spiritual solution.” Theertha stated, “the whole world is a house of God, and we live here by God’s grace.” Rabbi David Rosen noted that “the earth belongs to God, and that we do not have ownership over it in a permanent sense.”
Buddhist leader Kosho Niwano offered her view that “everything we receive is a gift from nature, and that our lives are fully interconnected, sustained by web of all that exists.” Niwano suggested that people “need to return to our true self, our original hearts and minds.”
Dr. H. Din Syamsuddin of the Muhammadiyah Organization of Indonesia shared with Vatican forum attendees the Islamic perspective. Prof. Syamsuddin noted that Islam recognizes the sanctity of nature and the environment because it is God’s creation. The Earth is a blessing from God, Syamsuddin pointed out, and humans are merely inhabitants, never owners; in fact only temporarily borrowing it from future generations. He shared that Islam requires humans “to treat nature justly and responsibly for the benefit of future generations.”
The Way Big Oil Destroys the Environment
Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria, brought the turmoil of climate change home to the attendees of the Vatican symposium. Speaking of his native homeland, Onaiyekan related that Lake Chad, a once huge lake, has now nearly dried up due to devastating droughts. As the Sahara desert expands southward, predominantly Muslim animal herders must move their cattle further southward, as well, to find sustainable pasture. Unfortunately, this movement is encroaching on predominantly Christian farmland. Criticizing the Big Oil companies in Nigeria, Onaiyekan called it a “crime against humanity,” the way Big Oil destroys the environment, with the resulting violence spreading among the people.
Big Oil did it’s best to bring the turmoil of climate change even closer to home than that. Annett related that the peaceful environment of the Vatican Climate Change Symposium was disrupted by uninvited intruders masquerading as members of the press. Funded by the fossil fuel industry, a US-based climate denial group called the Heartland Institute came to Rome for the purpose of “educating” Pope Francis on climate change.
Annett reported that members of the Heartland Institute “managed to infiltrate the Vatican as part of the press group, and even tried to sabotage the press conference with Ban Ki-moon.” Not exactly singing from the same hymnal, Vatican security guards quickly evicted the unwelcome intruders.
Mitigating Climate Change is Morally and Religiously Imperative
“Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality,” stated the Vatican Climate Change Symposium final declaration, “and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity.”
As UNSG Ban Ki-moon told the Symposium attendees in his opening address, “If ever there were an issue that requires unity of purpose, it is climate change. Science tells us we are far off track from reducing global emissions sufficient to keep global temperature rise below 2° C. We are currently on course for a rise of 4-5° C. That would alter life on Earth as we know it.”
Ban continued, “This is morally indefensible. It contradicts our responsibility to be good stewards of creation. People everywhere are realizing we must fundamentally change our ways.” He pointed out, “To transform our economies, however, we must first transform our thinking, and our values. In this, the world’s religions can provide valuable leadership. As the Holy See has said, ‘there is a moral imperative to act, for we all bear the responsibility to protect and to value creation for the good of this and future generations’.”
Addressing the topic of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment and climate change, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized its significant value. “I very much look forward to the upcoming encyclical,” he stated. “It will convey to the world that protecting our environment is an urgent moral imperative and a sacred duty for all people of faith and people of conscience. It is critically important that people and their leaders hear your strong moral voice in the coming months.”
This is the time to start warming up those strong moral voices, because that’s a hymn I believe we should all be singing together!
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