Writer and campaigner Ellen Teague gave the following short talk during Sunday Masses at Our Lady Help of Christians in north London, as part of the parish's St Francis of Assisi weekend on climate change.
A countdown has begun to international climate change negotiations taking place in Copenhagen in December. But what does that have to do with you and me as we worship God here today at Kentish Town?We follow Jesus who came that all might have 'life to the full'. I have lived in Northern Nigeria and seen farmers unable to grow crops on land that is turning into desert. I have spoken with Columban priests working in Peru who fear that rapidly melting mountain glaciers, which bring flooding in the short-term, will mean fresh water shortage in the long-term for cities such as Lima. Two years ago I was in Manila where low-lying parishes in the Archdiocese of Manila were gearing up to cope with extreme weather events caused by climate change. Last weekend, at least 250 people were killed and 450,000 people made homeless when makeshift shanty towns were washed away by exceptional torrential rain linked to global warming. Poor communities everywhere in the global south are being denied “life to the full” because of climate change. And scientists have proved it is because of human activity – such as putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and chopping down rainforests which absorb carbon dioxide. So, the life of Jesus inspires us to respond, and that is why a group has been set up in this parish. Well done to those involved!
But as well as Scripture we also have a century-long tradition of Catholic Social Teaching. It tells us that Catholics are obligated to help the poor and vulnerable and to ensure that the natural world is used sustainably, respecting other living species. It is within this tradition of the common good that our church leaders in Britain ask us to pray this weekend for an adequate climate deal in Copenhagen and to be willing to lead less destructive lifestyles. It is within this tradition that Pope Benedict has already sent a message to Copenhagen urging that 'the current model of global development be transformed through a greater, and shared, responsibility for creation'. He says 'this is demanded not only by environmental factors, but also by the scandal of hunger and human misery'. When you hear church bells ring out at 3pm on Sunday 13th December, know that this is the churches urging action by the world leaders in Copenhagen.
What can we do as a Catholic parish to tackle environmental issues, particularly climate change? I see it as a challenge offering opportunities to improve the way we live and to help others:
What about joining the parish climate group. Members will be standing with me at the end of Mass. Support the group as it raises awareness of these issues. They are helping to bring “life to the full” to the entire community of life on Earth.
You can join ‘The Wave’ on Saturday 5th December at Westminster where Christians are gathering for an 11am service and march urging significant action in Copenhagen. Archbishop Vincent Nichols will be there. We should be there too.
We can live more simply – reviewing our food consumption, energy use, transport, waste disposal and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
What about the parish joining eco-congregation and local Christian schools becoming eco-schools. If the Vatican can put solar panels on its roof, why can’t we on our church buildings?
In the Mass, when we pray to the God of all Creation, let us acknowledge God’s presence in the still beautiful natural world around us and reflect upon how we can be better stewards of it.