NAIROBI, Kenya (CWR) –Archbishop Bert Van Megen, the Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya, urged world Catholic youth to use all means of communication to spread the message of Laudato Si’, at an event marking the fourth anniversary of the papal encyclical.
Nearly 350 young leaders from more than 50 countries met on July 15-16 for the second international interfaith conference on the encyclical, held at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters in Nairobi.The conference met under the theme “Laudato Si’ Generation: Young People Caring for Our Common Home” to discuss the encyclical and to consider ecological questions and practices.
Megen said the papal letter as a wake-up call for all people, especially youth, to step up action against what he described as a “global ecological crisis.”
“Any action undertaken now will benefit especially you, the youth, as the next generation of persons taking responsibility for the well-being of the human family,” said Megen at the conference, which also coincided with the fifth anniversary of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA).
According the archbishop, the much-discussed letter by Pope Francis urges the world to respond adequately to the environmental crisis facing humanity, and to combine theory and practice in the response.
“We cannot just talk without action. We need to turn our words into action, into solemn commitment for the betterment of the world,” said Megen.
The UN’s Faith for Earth Initiative, CYNESA, World Wildlife Fund, Young Muslim Association, and Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development had partnered to host the event, which brought together young leaders from various interfaith groups, indigenous people, and environmental organizations.
In the encyclical released four years ago, Pope Francis stated, “Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s poorest. Young people demand change.”
The pontiff emphasized that it is important for people to consider making personal choices that could contribute to the greater good rather than the gratification of our short-term desires. What “they all need,” he wrote, “is an ‘ecological conversion’, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.”
Joyce Msuya, the deputy executive director of the UN Environment told participants of the conference that rising temperatures, devastating floods, prolonged droughts, and melting glaciers in the Arctic were warning signs of the “undeniable truth” that the planet is sick.
“I find hope,” said Msuya, a Tanzanian microbiologist, “in the forty Catholic institutions that have already announced plans to divest from oil and gas, and many other faith based groups around the world that are considering the same…” Msuya stated that she found hope in Pope Francis, who has spoken so strongly about the climate emergency, and who has encouraged young people to head a movement to make a difference.
“I find hope in Laudato Si’” she stated, “[a document] …that appeals to each of us to care for our common home.”
Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, sent Monsignor Bruno-Marie Duffe’, the Dicastery’s Secretary, to represent him at the event.
“As members of the common human family, we are here to reflect on the precarious state of our common planetary home, and to articulate concrete responses to heal and rebuild,” said Turkson, while describing the current global crisis as intricate, complex, and many-sided.
He said the rising global temperatures are driving the planet to the breaking point, with many people living on the coastlines and in poor countries being placed in increasingly vulnerable situations.
Turkson quoted a 2018 report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which warned that planetary temperatures are approaching the 1.5 Degrees Centigrade threshold, above the pre-industrial levels. The threschold is outlined in the Paris Agreement, a pact under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), which seeks to reduce emission of gases that contribute to global warming. Turkson had quoted Pope Francis as saying that the world faces a climate emergency that could turn into a brutal act of injustice towards the poor and future generations.
“Those who contributed the least to this crisis should not be the ones paying the highest price,” said Turkson.
The Cardinal called on nations to address the growing biodiversity crisis, saying an estimated one million animals and plants with the risk of extinction.
According to Turkson, scientists were calling for an international agreement to protect at least 30 percent of the planet’s ecosystem by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050.
“This is essential not only for mitigating the sixth mass extinction event we are undergoing, but it is also essential for achieving the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5 C,” said Turkson, “as natural habitats also have an irreplaceable role as carbon sink that can absorb the carbon pollution plaguing our atmosphere.”
He had called for special attention on the protection of the rights of indigenous communities which care and protect forests as gifts from God and sacred places.
The conference had adopted an interfaith approach, with Muslims, Hindus, and leaders from indigenous communities being invited to speak.
“While its certainly true that a greater portion of responsibility lies on those countries with higher pollution rates,” said Sheikh Hassan Kinyua, a leader from Kenya‘s Young Muslim Association, “it remains an inconvenient truth that many of the poorest people … suffer the consequence of … irresponsible and indulgent lifestyle choices.” He said that there is no room for inaction or passivism, as God is watching.
Religions and science, observed some of the participants, can find a meeting point in the effort to mitigate against the global ecological crisis, which they say threatens to annihilate humanity.
“The church is committed to playing her part in raising the awareness and advocating for action, while accompanies local communities with their struggles,” Cardinal Turkson stated, “The upcoming Synod of the bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region to happen in October 2019, will be a milestone in this journey.”
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