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Carroll Woods of Ottawa was one of 25,000 who marched on Parliament Hill Nov. 29 calling for real action on climate change. Photo by Michael Swan.

Thousands rally for a ‘Climate of Change’

  • December 3, 2015

OTTAWA - A message was delivered loud and clear from parishes to Paris in a global wave of protests Nov. 29.

More than 2,300 street protests and related events in 150 countries greeted the opening of the United Nations-sponsored climate negotiations in Paris with demands for real action, sacrifice and solidarity from global leaders. Protesters in almost every global capital warned political and economic leaders against any retreat in the fight against climate change into short-term self interest.

The protest movement included more than 800,000 signatures on the Global Catholic Climate Movement’s petition inspired by Pope Francis’ June encyclical Laudato Si’. The 800,237 Catholic signatures were nearly half of 1,780,528 signatures on faith-based petitions handed over to United Nations representatives in Paris Nov. 30.

In Ottawa, organizers claim 25,000 people marched through the city to Parliament Hill. Marchers declared action on climate change “100 per cent possible.” The march was bolstered by hundreds of Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace supporters in the crowd, including three busloads who travelled from Montreal to the Ottawa protest.

Catholics haven’t always been at the forefront of thinking about the moral dimensions of climate change, Gatineau Archbishop Paul-André Durocher told a cheering crowd in front of Ottawa City Hall.

“But we’re catching up,” he said. “It’s a question of social justice. The most vulnerable (to climate change) are the poor.”

Durocher thanked First Nations’ Canadians for teaching him about the moral value of the natural world with the Ojibway word for thanks, chi meegwetch.

Calling for a “global and transformational agreement,” Durocher declared a better world is possible.

“Such a transformation is 100-per-cent possible and such a world is 100-per-cent possible,” he said.

Development and Peace marchers in Ottawa, and dozens more among over 1,000 people gathered at Queen’s Park in Toronto, were supported by up to 380,000 cards delivered to the new government in Ottawa. Each signed card promises a personal commitment to conserve energy and live more sustainably, combined with a demand for stronger environmental protections from government.

Development and Peace claims the cards were one of the most successful campaigns in the organization’s history. Though the total number of cards actually received by the government is only available through a freedom of information request, Development and Peace officials report the cards went through four printings because demand in parishes was so high.

“Unless you make noise, nothing gets done,” said Nick Diliso as he arrived on Parliament Hill with a Development and Peace placard held high.

Deliso said he didn’t know anything about the organization but gladly picked up the Catholic sign calling for a “Climate of Change” because it delivered a message he believes in.

National council member Richard Pommainville said he was inspired by the presence of so many young people marching with Development and Peace.

“The youth are realizing they’re inheriting this,” said the Ottawa telecom executive and long-time Development and Peace volunteer as he left an interfaith prayer gathering before joining the march in front of Ottawa City Hall.

Development and Peace is one of more than 180 Catholic organizations worldwide who constitute the Caritas and CIDSE networks represented at the Paris negotiations. The Catholics attending the Paris meetings, including Cardinal Peter Turkson and Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, are calling for a global climate plan that puts the poor first.

A Paris march that was projected to attract more than one million was cancelled in the wake of terrorist attacks that killed 130 people Nov. 13. In place of the marchers, activists placed more than 20,000 pairs of shoes in front of the Place de la République where official COP21 negotiations are taking place. Among the shoes was a pair donated by Pope Francis with the words Laudato Si’ inscribed on them. Turkson and Hummes also donated shoes to the display.

Ottawa Development and Peace volunteer Janyce Elser-Ethier looked around at the people marching and declared that environmental activism is becoming mainstream among Canadian Catholics.

“It’s part of the official canon of Catholic social teaching (since Laudato Si’)” she said. “Some of us are actually standing in front of our parishes and talking about this.”

“Our catechism experience is being expressed,” said Ottawa diocesan council member Larry Martin.

At St. Joseph’s parish in Ottawa, the Development and Peace group has always been actively supported by parish pastors. The result has been an engaged parish that understands the connection between poverty and climate change, Martin said.

“They understand that it’s a moral issue,” said Ottawa member Carroll Woods. As she stood on Parliament Hill with a Development and Peace sign held high, Woods said she was thinking of her grandson.

The march is the product of a new mood across Canada, said Saskatchewan national council member Hélène Tremblay-Boyko.

“Certainly a strong voice rose up from it,” she said.

The willingness of most provincial premiers to put a price on carbon and the announcement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that he will call a second first ministers’ meeting within 90 days of returning from the Paris negotiations show Canada headed in a new direction, said Tremblay-Boyko from Montreal a day after the protests. That’s given Development and Peace a national movement it can be part of and that attracts young people, she said.

“Young people don’t participate in the same way as us old fogeys in terms of signing our membership cards, but when there is a project that really touches them they become much more engaged,” said Tremblay-Boyko. “We are so excited about what’s happening around us right now.”

Durocher was followed on stage by headline speaker David Suzuki. The biologist and hero to environmentalists recalled the West’s response to the Pearl Harbour attacks during the Second World War.

“We had no choice. We had to fight and we had to win,” he said.

The fight against global warming is “not an option — it’s a necessity,” Suzuki said.

“The climate crisis makes us see that we have to transform how we live on this planet,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy. It has to be done. It can be done. Do we have the will to do it?”

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