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Paris Blog 7: Ecumenical climate service in Notre Dame

  • Ellen Teague

The Columban missionaries and Westminster Justice and Peace were so anxious to get front seats at tonight's ecumenical climate service at Notre Dame Cathedral that we were early enough to enjoy evening vespers and the last Mass of the day first. And it did give us a chance to fully study the wonderful creation-centred tapestries displayed down the left aisle to coincide with the UN climate talks.

Was this the first 'Ecumenical Celebration for Creation' to be held in the 850 year old cathedral? I have no idea, but it is certainly the first one that has been organised to engage with UN climate talks being held in Paris. The cathedral was packed and on the Catholic front I could see representatives of the Global Catholic Climate Coalition, the Caritas network, the Franciscan Action Network and the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns. Christian Aid was represented too. I heard that Catholic climate campaigners from the Pacific were there and many pilgrims from the various 'People's Pilgrimages' which arrived in Paris last Friday.

When the long procession got underway, it was clear that the Catholic Church was well represented by several cardinals, including Cardinal Claudio Hummes from Brazil, who is a close friend of Pope Francis. There must have been at least 50 Christian leaders, including Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans and the Salvation Army. A few women bishops from Northern Europe were in the line up as well. The welcome was given by Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, and when he invited everyone to share a sign of peace the congregation turned to greet people of many nationalities, united in concern for climate justice. The 'Our Father' being prayed in many different languages later in the service was similarly poignant.

The liturgy included plenty of praising God for the gifts of creation using psalms and music, with styles varying from the chanting of an orthodox choir to the swinging hymn of a Black-led Church choir. Prayers mentioned celebration for biodiversity, concern for future generations and the need for ecological conversion. There was a call for 'peace in our time' which struck the British in the congregation forcibly. The homily by Patriarch Bartholomew, the 'Green Patriarch', read by an orthodox bishop, stressed the importance of urgent climate action at this time and underlined that the patriarch and Pope Francis are united in this call. It picked up on the Gospel reading from Matthew that followers of Christ are called to be 'salt of the Earth' and 'light of the world'. Was this a pat on the back for Christian climate campaigners? I think it was and the patriarch's words were quietly well received. I say quietly because we didn't feel the master of ceremonies would have been happy with clapping or cheering - we were after all in Notre Dame which is used to very formal liturgies. Nobody dared display their banners either, and perhaps the unity of the congregation was more apparent because of lack of barriers between the various groups.

Having said that, there was a colourful procession of 'signs of creation' carried by young people: olive oil, a piece of pottery, cotton cloth, a musical instrument, and a boat. A blue globe held high had images of little children holding handing around it and Yeb Sano, a Filipino from the People's Pilgrimage, and one of the world's most famous climate campaigners, read: "We are aware that creation is a gift entrusted to us and that we are responsible to future generations for the whole Earth."

Before the final prayer and hymn a message was read out from the service organisers, the Council of Christian Churches of France. It said, "We call on political and economic decision makers, especially those gathered at the COP21, to take the decisions necessary to limit warming to 2 degrees celsius so that the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters and future generations do not suffer more."

The service was an important highlight of Christian concern for creation being recognised in liturgy and of solidarity amongst the Christian climate campaigners gathered here in Paris. It was also another opportunity for people of faith to lobby the COP21 negotiators. We were still chatting in the aisles when they started to close the huge doors of Notre Dame to encourage us to leave, and so we continued animated conversation outside in the cold winter air.

Incidentally, earlier in the day, my Columban colleague from Australia, Fr Charles Rue, and I visited the Sacre Coeur church on the hill at Montmartre. (I have been getting a year's worth of exercise in over my week here!) It was interesting to see that this famous church is running a COP21 exhibition in one of its side chapels. The two prayers at the end of Laudato Si' were displayed, along with explanations of themes in the environment encyclical of Justice, Solidarity and Participation. There was also an announcement that Eucharistic Adoration at Sacre Coeur over the period of Cop21, 30 November - 11 December, will be for "the safeguarding of Creation". Well done to the French churches.

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