UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres greets 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg Sept. 21 during the Youth Climate Summit at UN headquarters in New York City. CNS photo/Carlo Allegri, Reuters

Catholics put climate on electoral hot seat

  • September 26, 2019

As at least 60,000 people marched on United Nations headquarters Sept. 20 and hundreds of thousands of students around the world demanded climate solutions, Canadian Catholics launched a chapter of the Global Catholic Climate Movement with calls for politicians to confront climate change.

“We are not going to shy away from being political,” said founding GCCM Canada co-ordinator Agnes Richard. “I know that fact will make some uncomfortable and maybe not want to be part of what we’re doing. I recognize that. But I also hear loud and clear the call from Pope Francis that this is something Catholics should be doing.”

Plans to launch a Canadian chapter of the international Catholic climate change network based in Boston began informally in January. Richard is grateful it came together in time to speak out during the election campaign.

“We’re focused in the first year on encouraging Catholics to ask their candidates about it in the upcoming election and then, following the election, to continue to press for policy around these things once we know who will form the next government,” she said.

The climate activism will be strongly aligned with Indigenous Canadians, including calls for Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said Richard. Parliament came close to incorporating the UN declaration into Canadian law this spring, but the bill was stalled by Conservative senators and failed to pass before Parliament dissolved for the election.

The new Canadian Catholic network has brought Squamish Elder Deacon Rennie Nahanee of the Archdiocese of Vancouver on board as one of its 10 advisors.

“It’s a very exciting time to be a youth involved in environmental activism,” said GCCM Canada youth representative Justine Shenher. “It’s a very critical time, obviously.”

The 27-year-old Saskatoon lawyer, called to the bar in July, believes Canadian Catholics of all ages need concrete ways to link environmental issues with their Catholic faith.

“A lot of times people don’t realize that’s a component of their Catholic faith — to be responsive to the environmental crisis, to care for our common home,” she said.

Dismissing the climate in favour of either profits or convenience is “absolutely selfish,” Shenher said.

“The youth of today did not necessarily create this disaster that’s before us, but we’re certainly the ones who are feeling the effects of it,” said Shenher. “And we’re the ones who are trying to champion this fight to make it better for future generations, not just ourselves.”

Shenher frankly admits to being inspired by Sweden’s 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, who slammed world leaders at the UN on Sept. 23 for their “betrayal” of her generation.

“How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood,” Thunberg told delegates to a UN summit called to examine national carbon reduction plans.

GCCM Canada was formally launched at a Caritas Canada-Development and Peace conference in Saskatoon on Sept. 14. The event included a keynote speech from Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen.

“We have had great support from bishops since we started talking about bringing GCCM to Canada,” said Richard.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has yet to weigh in on the new organization.

“As the Canadian chapter is a relatively new development, the executive committee will be reflecting more about this at its meeting in November 2019,” said CCCB spokesperson Lisa Gall.

GCCM Canada will be urging Catholic institutions and organizations to divest their stock holdings in oil, gas and coal companies and re-invest the money in climate friendly enterprises, Richard said.

GCCM Canada is getting help with its website and office space from the ecumenical organization Faith and the Common Good. A substantial portion of the financing for the organization’s start-up came from women’s religious orders.

Membership is free and open to all Canadian Catholics, who on signing up will receive a quarterly newsletter and the opportunity to participate in a series of webinars, beginning with an Oct. 2 online forum on the Amazon Synod and the 2015 papal encyclical Laudato Si’. The event will feature Nahanee speaking about parallels between the fight for the Amazon and Indigenous issues in Canada.

Volunteering opportunities will become available over the fall, Richard said.

The organization has highlighted spiritual resources that make the connection between Catholic prayer and care for creation.

(This article was corrected to change the name of the event speaker in the 20th paragraph)

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