Catholic Action for Our Common Home

Written by CCA’s Father Martin Newell.

Published in the Birmingham Catholic Archdiocese newspaper, “Catholic Today”


In “Laudato Si” last year, Pope Francis urged Catholics to care for our ‘sister earth’ and the God given life on it. He wrote that the earth is our neighbour we are called to love as ourselves, and it is poor and afflicted. He said we are turning God’s beautiful world into ‘an immense pile of filth’. We have been “seeing but not perceiving” (Jesus Mk 4:12) . Looking at God’s world through the eyes of faith, we see a common home full of the Spirit and Life, not just a place of atoms, chemicals and genes to exploit for comfort or convenience.

We do not see ‘piles of filth’ around us much in England, they are elsewhere: the tops taken off mountains, open cast mines as big as towns. Rivers and waters poisoned with cyanide to leach out the gold, ancient forests destroyed for wood for our homes, miles of scorched earth to produce oil, plastic in the oceans killing fish and the microscopic life they depend on. But we are having extreme weather, which scientists predicted: regular floods, the wettest month on record in December. Globally 2015 was the warmest year on record. Climate change is already causing death and destruction for the poorest especially, forcing people to migrate and seek refuge in places like Europe, just
to survive.

The argument about whether climate change is human caused, or even real – is over. World leaders at the Paris Summit in December agreed the human race needs to act to keep global temperature rises below two degrees above pre-industrial levels. Pope Francis and all the world’s governments have agreed that urgent changes are needed to prevent global disaster. The arguments now are about how much and how fast we need to change, and how to do it.

Because the effects hit the poorest hardest, at the Paris talks the Vatican and Catholic agencies like CAFOD pushed for temperature rises to be kept to 1.5 degrees. Practically they are pushing for carbon free electricity by 2030, and a zero carbon economy by 2050. These changes are enormous but possible. The technology is there and improving fast, but political will is still lacking.

As people of faith, we have to act. Like the Good Samaritan, we cannot “walk by on the other side”. Some say “What about China, India, or the USA?” They too are responsible, especially the USA. But the rich countries, including the UK, have the biggest responsibility and capacity to change: the poorer countries have emitted less carbon and can only make the shift if rich countries who can more easily afford it, act to help. When our neighbour is in need, we are called to respond. We cannot say “what about the Levite, that Temple priest – they should do something, they have more responsibility than us.” God will not ask us, “What did the others do for me?”

Our government is speaking fine words, saying it is combating climate change, but doing the opposite: like cutting solar energy subsidies while announcing new subsidies for fracking. This is the kind of hypocrisy Jesus criticized the Pharisees for, calling them ‘whitewashed tombs’, and Ezekiel called leaders in his day “whitewashed walls” (Ez 13).
John the Baptist warned the people of his time to avoid the “disaster that is coming”, and Jesus called them to “read

the signs of the times” and “repent”. As a prophetic warning, Jesus enacted the future destruction at the ‘cleansing of the Temple’. Humanly speaking, this challenging action led to His arrest and crucifixion. But the people continued on and eventually Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman Empire. We too need to “read the signs of the times”, “repent” (change our ways) and avoid “the disaster that is coming”.

So recently I joined a small Christian group who tried to follow Jesus’ example. We went to the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) at the start of the Paris Summit. We took a white coffin with a plastic skeleton and words “DECC – Dept for Extreme Climate Change” inside. At the DECC, we painted the wall with whitewash, read the words of Ezekiel and Jesus and knelt down to pray. We were arrested and charged with criminal damage. We await trial in May, hoping to “bear witness to the faith that is in us”. Our prayer is that this small symbolic action will move others to act to protect our sister earth and the poorest of God’s family.

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