By Fr Martin Poulsom SDB
On Thursday 14 February, at Mount Street Jesuit Centre in London, a day conference for religious is taking place, at which we can hear about how Catholic institutions are responding to the urgent call on climate change launched by Pope Francis in Laudato Sì. The conference, co-sponsored by Operation Noah, CAFOD, the Conference of Religious, the Association of Provincial Bursars, Global Catholic Climate Movement and the National Justice & Peace Network, will take place from 11am to 4pm, including a Laudato Sì Mass at 3.30pm celebrated by Rev Dr Dominic Robinson SJ.
Speakers will include Lorna Gold, Coordinator of the Laudato Si' Project at Trocaire and Vice Chair of the Global Catholic Climate Movement; Sr Sheila Kinsey FCJM, Executive Co-Secretary of the JPIC Commission UISG-USG in Rome; and Rev Dr Martin Poulsom SDB, Senior Lecturer in Theology at the University of Roehampton. There will also be an opportunity to learn more about fossil fuel divestment that is already taking place, and about how religious communities can get involved in supporting the clean energy transition to ensure a brighter, cleaner future for everyone.
Religious have long been at the forefront of engagement in the areas of justice, peace and the integrity of creation, and this Conference will allow us to reflect on investment decisions that are being made by our sisters and brothers and to discern a way forward for ourselves. Responsible and ethical investment is now something that every religious order and congregation takes account of, and we will hear from investors who have discerned that investment in energy production and storage is an ethical issue, which requires action. In doing so, they are responding to the call of Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ to care for ‘our common home … which we all share’ (§ 13). Francis also points out that we ‘now know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels needs to be progressively replaced without delay’ (§ 165).
This message, that the time to act is now, is also supported by many other voices around our common home. A scientific study published this month in the journal Nature Communications indicates that the Paris target of 1.5oC is attainable, if a phase-out of carbon-intensive energy use and transition to clean energy begins immediately. This supports the most recent assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which spoke of the enormous benefits of aiming for the ambitious 1.5oC target, and of the need to act quickly to make it possible to attain.
Large numbers of organisations, both religious and secular, are already responding to these calls to action. More than 1,000 institutions around the world, including the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference, Caritas Internationalis, the Passionists in England & Wales, the Columban Missionaries and the Franciscan Sisters of Mary in the USA have taken the step of divesting (disinvesting) from fossil fuel companies, in response to the global threat of climate change. New York City, the Royal College of GPs and the Church of Ireland were also among organisations to divest in 2018.
By announcing divestment commitments publicly, religious orders and congregations respond to our prophetic call, to be voices that speak in favour of those who are ignored and disregarded, to be people who put our words into action in our lives. In this way, we become prophetic witnesses of possibility, seeking to welcome in a future that God calls us to make a reality in our common home. As we discern the direction that God is calling us to take, we can take encouragement from Pope Francis, who encourages us to walk lightly together on the earth: ‘May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope’ (Laudato Sì, § 244).
The conference is free of charge, and participants are invited to bring something to share for a vegetarian lunch. Places are limited, so please book by Friday 8 February to avoid disappointment, by contacting James Buchanan at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 07801 570653.
Bright Now - the campaign for Fossil Free Churches www.brightnow.org.uk