After COP21, Pope urges: remember the poor

The Taize service at the Church of St Ignatius, Paris: Donna Schaper
The Taize service at the Church of St Ignatius, Paris: Donna Schaper

As environmentalists and social justice campaigners continue to assess the success – or otherwise – of the Climate Change conference in Paris (COP21), Jesuits worldwide are reviewing what the deal struck will mean in practice, especially for the poor communities in which they work. Nearly 200 countries took part in the negotiations to strike a climate deal to cut emissions, which would come into being in 2020, and to allocate $100 billion a year to developing countries for climate control measures. While some feel Paris has shown that the world is taking the climate threat seriously, others fear the promises made at the end of the two weeks of discussion are too vague and do not go far enough. But many attending COP21 consider that Pope Francis’ warning ahead of the conference that the world is facing a “grave environmental crisis” was heeded, and that his encyclical Laudato Si in which he spoke of the connection between social justice and the protection of nature did indeed influence the outcome of the discussions.

Yesterday, the Pope urged the international community to maintain the momentum created by the Paris talks. "With the hope that special attention for the most vulnerable populations is guaranteed, I urge the whole international community to proceed on the path undertaken in the name of an ever more effective solidarity," he told pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square for the Angelus. He then went on to encourage delegates taking part in the 10th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Nairobi tomorrow (Tuesday) to always take into account the needs of the poor when making decisions. He said they should not neglect the "legitimate aspirations of less developed nations, of the common good and of the whole human family."

Linking faith, spirituality and the environment

Jesuits from the developing world were among the delegates who took part in discussions around COP21 in Paris. They included Fr Rigobert Minani SJ from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is part of a Church network that is aiming to protect the Congo Basin, which he described as "the second lung of humanity". He spoke at a panel discussion on spirituality and ecology, organised by Catholic development network CIDSE, at which he linked African spirituality and Christian faith. Among those who attended this meeting was Sarah Hagger-Holt of CAFOD Campaigns, who was with a CAFOD group in Paris. “He spoke of a deep connection with the forest, fostered by traditional initiation rites in which young people enter the forest to learn their role in society,” she said. "He told us: These are holy places … Forests are part of who we are."

Also in Paris was Fr Pedro Walpole SJ, the Director of Research at the Institute of Environmental Science for Social Change in the Philippines. Writing in The Way before COP21, he argued that Laudato Si was a living document, saying that “we need to hear the call anew and respond with reflection and perseverance, in solidarity with others”. According to Dr Alison Doig of Christian Aid who was in Paris for the event, the mood brought to the conference by Pope Francis was “transformative” and “wonderful”. She told Vatican Radio that since the publication of Laudato Sì, there was “a momentum of support from the wider faith community”.

Reflection and solidarity were hallmarks of ministry at the Jesuit Church of St Ignatius in Paris (Eglise Saint-Ignace) during the Climate Change conference. There National Catholic Reporter writer, Donna Schaper, found the church crowded at the Saturday night Taizé service to pray for Pope Francis and the climate conference. “The interior had been rearranged into a wide elliptical space,” she wrote. “The moquette carpet on the floor … was clean, making a place suitable for sitting. The wooden cross was portable and you could tell it had been moved around a lot.” The packed service, involving young adults and Jesuits in albs, sang Taizé chants, which Donna found both uplifting and emotional. But she says the most important element of the service was the motion of the cross. “Four strong young ones – the demographic of COP21 – picked up the cross, turned it upside down and turned it into a table, which they then knelt before and kissed. Then the robed Jesuits did the same … People from all four corners of the earth, I mean the chapel, stood quietly and slowly, and did the same. Then I did the same. My Jewish husband held my coat. He had never been to a Taizé service and spent most of it overwhelmed spiritually. Then from the north, the south, the east and west of the sanctuary people lined up to do the same. No bread, no wine, only a cross to kiss. Pope Francis was adequately prayed for. The planet will be all right. Nada Me Turbe (Let nothing disturb you).”