(First Sunday of Advent-Year B; This homily was given on December 2 & 3, 2023 at Saint Augustine Church in Providence, Rhode Island; See Isaiah 63:16-64:7, Psalm 80, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 and Mark 13:33-37)
Delivering a message Pope Francis had hoped to offer in person, Cardinal Pietro Parolin urged the United Nations climate summit in Dubai to achieve a « breakthrough » and become a turning point for the world by charting a path for the elimination of fossil fuels.
« Now more than ever, the future of us all depends on the present that we now choose, » read Parolin, secretary of state for the Holy See.
« It is essential that there be a breakthrough that is not a partial change of course, but rather a new way of making progress together, » he said.
The Vatican’s top diplomat spoke Dec. 2 during the second day of the opening high-level segment of COP28, where heads of state and government delivered addresses to the climate conference and the estimated 70,000 participants assembled in the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates.
Francis had been scheduled to be there in person — what would have been a first for a pope — but canceled his trip Nov. 28 on the advice of doctors as he recovers from acute bronchitis.
« Sadly, I am unable to be present with you, as I had greatly desired, » Parolin read on behalf of the pope.
‘Climate change signals the need for political change. Let us emerge from the narrowness of self-interest and nationalism; these are approaches belonging to the past.’
But through the cardinal, the pope still sought to deliver to world leaders and negotiators in Dubai a forceful message that alternated between encouraging and searing.
« We must answer now: Are we working for a culture of life or a culture of death? To all of you I make this heartfelt appeal: Let us choose life! Let us choose the future! »
« May this COP prove to be a turning point, demonstrating a clear and tangible political will that can lead to a decisive acceleration of ecological transition, » Parolin read, « through means that meet three requirements: they must be ‘efficient, obligatory and readily monitored.’ And achieved in four sectors: energy efficiency; renewable sources; the elimination of fossil fuels; and education in lifestyles that are less dependent on the latter. »
Burning coal, oil and gas releases heat-trapping greenhouse gases, which are the primary driver of human-caused climate change.
Numerous countries, alongside civil society groups including faith-based organizations, have pressed nations at COP28 to agree to the full phaseout of fossil fuels. That outcome is seen as unlikely, as others have proposed a « phasedown » of « unabated » fossil fuel use where emissions can’t be captured before entering the atmosphere.
Francis was not the only absent world leader among the 160 heads of states who took part in the high-level segment. U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping both stayed home. Vice President Kamala Harris spoke on Biden’s behalf Dec. 2 as well. Parolin read an excerpt of a longer speech the pope had prepared, which he said would be published in full.
In his remarks, the pope called the destruction of the environment « an offense against God » and a sin, « one that greatly endangers all human beings, especially the most vulnerable in our midst and threatens to unleash a conflict between generations. »
Citing the war waging in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, roughly 1,300 miles from the summit, Francis bemoaned the many resources « squandered on weaponry that destroys lives and devastates our common home. » He repeated a proposal from his 2020 encyclical Fratelli Tutti that money spent on war be redirected to end hunger and for climate initiatives in poorer countries.
Francis also pushed back against attempts to cast climate change as the fault of the poor and developing countries, referencing a recent Oxfam report that found the richest 10% of the world population is responsible for half of global emissions, compared to the poorest 50% contributing 8% of emissions.
« The gap between the opulent few and the masses of the poor has never been so abysmal. The poor are the real victims of what is happening, » he said. He then suggested that financial debts be remitted for developing countries as a way for industrialized nations to repay the « ecological debt » he said they’ve incurred through polluting and exploiting natural resources.
The pope’s planned appearance at COP28 would have come nearly two months after he issued Laudate Deum, an apostolic exhortation « on the climate crisis. » In that document, Francis bluntly criticized the slow progress that countries have made to date in limiting global warming, and with it the devastation that comes with more severe droughts, heatwaves and storms.
On the first day of COP28, the World Meteorological Organization announced that 2023 is on track to be the hottest year on record, reaching 1.4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Under the Paris Agreement, countries committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit average global temperature rise ideally to « well below » 2 C and ideally 1.5 C.
« These are more than just statistics. We risk losing the race to save our glaciers and to rein in sea level rise, » WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement. « We cannot return to the climate of the 20th century, but we must act now to limit the risks of an increasingly inhospitable climate in this and the coming centuries. »
A major focus at COP28 will be the conclusion of the « global stocktake » assessing nations’ progress to date in meeting the Paris goals. The process is expected to show that nations are well off pace, and while some steps have been made, emissions continue to rise and the planet is projected to double the Paris warming limit, reaching 1.5 C as early as the 2030s.
Already facing credibility questions, the 28th edition of the U.N. climate conference opened to controversy. A report by the BBC revealed that officials with host country UAE were directed to pursue oil deals with other nations in pre-COP meetings. Sultan Al-Jaber, COP28 president and head of the UAE’s ADNOC national oil company, has called the report false.
In his prepared remarks, Francis repeated his criticism from Laudate Deum of the current state of multilateralism that has produced slow and incremental progress in response to climate change after nearly three decades of international negotiations.
« It is up to this generation to heed the cry of peoples, the young and children, and to lay the foundations of a new multilateralism. Why not begin precisely from our common home? » he said.
« Climate change signals the need for political change. Let us emerge from the narrowness of self-interest and nationalism; these are approaches belonging to the past. Let us join in embracing an alternative vision: this will help to bring about an ecological conversion, for ‘there are no lasting changes without cultural changes.' »
He urged world leaders and negotiators to craft policies that provide « concrete and cohesive responses » to climate change. He called on government officials to demonstrate the nobility of public service. « In the end, the purpose of power is to serve, » he said. « It is useless to cling to an authority that will one day be remembered for its inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so. »
« Please, let us move forward and not turn back, » the pope pleaded, adding « History will be grateful to you. »
While Francis could not travel to Dubai, an eight-person Holy See delegation is present. It is the second conference since the Vatican formally signed onto the Paris Agreement and joined the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
And though he did not appear in person at the world leaders’ summit, the pope is set to deliver a video message Dec. 3 to help inaugurate the first-ever Faith Pavilion at a U.N. climate conference. Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb of Egypt’s Al-Azhar mosque will also provide a recorded message.
Expressing hope that 2024 could mark a breakthrough, Francis ended his speech by recounting a story from his saint namesake from 800 years earlier. In 1224, Francis of Assisi, completely blind and in physical pain, composed his « Canticle of the Creatures » as a way to give praise to God for the creatures he could no longer see « but knew that they were his brothers and sisters. »
« I too, who bear the name Francis, with the heartfelt urgency of a prayer, want to leave you with this message, » Parolin read on behalf of the pope. « Let us leave behind our divisions and unite our forces! And with God’s help, let us emerge from the dark night of wars and environmental devastation in order to turn our common future into the dawn of a new and radiant day. »
I made my first Communion when I was 8. I had waited long for it, was dressed up in a dress, veil and shoes, all of them white. I was ready for the big moment. Then, Msgr. Higgins gave the homily. He admired how we were
dressed, « Little princes and princesses, » and told us that it was a great day.
Then he said something I have never forgotten. He said, « Today is the least important time you will ever receive Communion. Every time after this will build on it and be fuller of grace. »
His homily also works as an Advent message that tells us: « The unknown future will bring more than we can imagine. Just keep getting readier! » That sets us off on a journey of hopeful anticipation.
As we begin Advent, we might recall some of our most memorable experiences of anticipation. Was it waiting for the birth of a child or the day of the wedding? Perhaps something seemingly much more mundane like the
end of the school year, the moment when your date was to pick you up or meet you at the restaurant.
Waiting reminds us that, like it or not, we don’t control the universe.
At the same time, we won’t discover the new unless we are open to it. Advent anticipation adds open-ended hope to all our anticipation. We keep growing, therefore the future is both unpredictable and promising.
Sometimes, it seems that Advent is designed to be confusing. Theologians call it a time of « already and not yet. » Today’s Gospel captures that dilemma perfectly. Jesus says, « Be on the lookout! » For what? For the coming of something you can’t predict, something that will take you by surprise at the least expected moment!
Jesus consistently avoided the trap of giving details about the end times.(They were — and still are — in an unpredictable process of becoming.) Nevertheless, he offered somber hints when he described the unpredictable time to come for him.
He said it would come, « in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. » Those were precisely the hours leading up to his passion. Jesus was arrested while praying in the evening. His interrogation by the religious leaders took place after that, presumably around midnight. Cockcrow was the moment for Peter to deny knowing him. In the morning, the Sanhedrin handed him over to Pilate.
Those were the moments for which he was watching. The disciples remembered this clearly because those worst of times blossomed into the Resurrection. For what are we supposed to be watching? Although Isaiah asks God to rend the heavens, he describes God much more gently as our father, the potter, our redeemer forever.
Today’s Psalm speaks of God the shepherd who watches over the tender vine. This leads us to sing, « Lord make us turn to you, show us your face and we shall be saved. » We realize that just knowing our God is all we need because, as Paul said, God is faithful and calls us and continually makes us capable of
communion with the Son. When we are growing, that communion also keeps growing.
The Jesuit mystic Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1957), talked about how to move in this continual journey of becoming more. He wrote:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally
impatient in everything to
reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip
the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being
on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all
progress that it is made by
passing through some stages
of instability — and that it
may take a very long time.
Sometimes we are tempted to look to the past as an ideal age: « If only I had lived in the time of Abraham or Jesus, or the days of the Latin Mass or … [fill in the blank]. » That’s not what Jesus did. He knew the treasures of his tradition, he cherished them, but he knew that time moves in only one direction, therefore what is to come, hard as it might seem to be, promises to be more than this or any moment of the past.
Our season of Advent — this year the shortest possible because Christmas falls on a Monday — invites us into hopeful anticipation. While we wait « for the revelation of our Lord, » we will need to learn to appreciate Jesus’ hours of passion and Teilhard’s disturbing « stages of instability. » We can appreciate them as hope-soaked promises in a process of growing in grace.
Advent is the time to anticipate what we cannot yet see, and to trust that it will come. Each day’s grace will build on the last.
As world leaders convene in Dubai for the annual United Nations climate change conference, or COP28, a new advocacy group will be on hand to influence the negotiations. For the first time in its history, the conference will host a faith pavilion, where faith groups and leaders from across the religious spectrum will gather to demonstrate the pivotal role of faith communities in tackling the climate crisis.
COP28 presents the faith community with an opportune moment to come together to influence climate negotiations. Rising global temperatures and the undeniable signs of environmental distress are manifestations of our negligence. More than just harming our planet, the climate crisis jeopardizes human life. It already impacts all facets of society.
Serving on the board of trustees of Catholic Relief Services, the global aid organization, I have learned about how extreme weather events have made life nearly impossible for those living on the fringes of society. The Horn of Africa, for instance, is only starting to recover from its worst drought in 40 years, one that decimated livestock and wiped out people’s ability to earn a living.
In 2022 in Pakistan, catastrophic flooding left a third of the country under water, a calamity that the Pakistani government says links directly to climate change. In 2020, back-to-back hurricanes Eta and Iota — the most severe natural disasters to hit Central America in more than 20 years — destroyed the livelihoods of tens of thousands of families, leading to massive humanitarian needs, including forced migration.
How predictable it is that the countries and people who are the poorest in the world and have contributed the least to the crisis are the most affected. The most vulnerable populations are again paying the price for choices made by wealthier and more powerful nations. In my work as the leader of the Archdiocese of Newark, I listen to the stories told by immigrants from various corners of the globe who are arriving at our parishes and church institutions. They come seeking refuge from situations imposed on them by others, decisions that undermine their ability to sustain themselves on their land or support their families.
The faith community, with its vast reach and moral authority, has a pivotal role to play in engendering the kind of change we need to see. Pope Francis has shown the way as a staunch advocate for the environment. In his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’, and its companion document, Laudate Deum, released earlier this year, he called for a profound ecological conversion in which we align our spiritual beliefs and our actions toward the planet and each other.
The Holy Father had planned to speak at COP28 but canceled his plans due to illness. But his message on the environment will be loud and clear in Dubai. As Francis wrote in « Laudato Si’, » « Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. »
At COP28, world leaders, including the U.S. delegation, must listen to developing countries, which need immense help to adapt to climate change, even as they recover from the losses they have already sustained. World leaders must keep their promises to provide more financial support for these communities.
The clock is ticking. We must act soon and with unity. The COP28 summit must signify a profound transformation, ensuring support for those disproportionately affected by the climate crisis while enacting just policy changes that ensure a better future.
When our children and grandchildren look back at this moment, they will judge us by our actions and decisions. As people of faith, we must rise to the occasion, ensuring that our legacy is one of unity, pursuing shared prosperity and equality, and unwavering commitment to the preservation of our common home.
The U.S. bishops added their voice to calls for the United Nations climate summit to usher in a decisive and accelerated transition away from fossil fuels toward clean energy, describing decarbonization of global economies as « the preeminent environmental challenge faced by all nations. »
The Nov. 29 statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops offered prayers for the leaders and participants, upward of 70,000, gathering in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for COP28. The latest session of the annual U.N. climate change conference opened Thursday in Dubai.
The statement was issued by Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia and Bishop A. Elias Zaidan of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, chairs of the U.S. bishops’ committees on domestic justice and human development and on international justice and peace, respectively.
Gudziak and Zaidan referenced Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation, Laudate Deum, which the pope focused on climate change. « The climate crisis is an opportunity to reconfigure international relations toward the common good » where countries and communities can work together to « achieve ‘a decisive acceleration of energy transition,’ » they wrote, quoting Laudate Deum.
« Despite the tremendous growth of renewable energy worldwide, the global economic system remains largely powered by fossil fuels. Decarbonization of the economy — through the replacement of fossil fuels with secure, reliable, affordable, and clean energy — is the preeminent environmental challenge faced by all nations, » the two bishops wrote.
The 13-day climate summit, hosted by the oil-rich UAE, is expected to see intense debates about the future of fossil fuels, while a « global stocktake » process will show nations well off track from meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Developing countries, alongside many faith-based organizations, civil society groups and climate activists, have called for nations in Dubai to commit to a full phaseout of coal, oil and gas. Burning these fuel sources releases heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions that are the primary driver of climate change.
But fossil-fuel-producing countries have instead proposed a « phasedown » or phaseout of « unabated fossil fuels. » Such terminology would allow continued use and production of the carbon-emitting fuel sources alongside the development of carbon-capture-and-sequestration technologies to pull emissions from the atmosphere. So far, the technology remains expensive and hasn’t been deployed at large scale.
In their statement, Gudziak and Zaidan said they were encouraged by recent decarbonization efforts in the U.S., including those initiated through the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest-ever climate legislation. The bishops supported the legislation, which is investing upward of $300 billion to transition the nation to clean energy.
Under the Paris Agreement, the U.S., the largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases, has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 50% to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030.
Still, the bishops said that any efforts to decarbonize and shift to renewable sources won’t be successful if they significantly increase energy costs for middle- and low-income citizens.
« In other words, climate goals must represent both the ‘cry of the earth’ and the ‘cry of the poor,’ and include the financial support by developed nations for adaptation, resilience, and recovery of the most vulnerable, » they wrote.
In his own statement, Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego urged COP28 to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels — estimated at $7 trillion globally — and for debt relief to be offered to economically poor nations in exchange for funding climate adaptation and resilience measures. Catholic Climate Covenant has advocated such debt-for-climate swaps with the Biden administration.
McElroy added that while the pope will no longer attend the summit due to illness, his leadership on environmental justice and in calling all nations to a stronger response on climate change « will be front and center. »
McElroy said that Francis, in Laudate Deum, « makes clear his thesis: ‘This is a global social issue and one intimately related to the dignity of human life … The whole of the created order, which is the gift of God to all of humanity, is at risk.’ «
Catholic Relief Services, the international humanitarian and development organization of the U.S. bishops, will have a delegation in Dubai at the climate conference. The CRS delegation will include staff from some of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
In a statement, CRS said its team will seek to advocate for progress on climate finance — including fulfillment of long-promised $100 billion annually for developing countries’ mitigation and adaptation efforts — and for the loss and damage fund established last year at COP27 to be operationalized. Other priorities include a comprehensive framework and doubling of financing for climate adaptation and inclusion of sustainable agricultural practices.
« The climate crisis requires a global response with the United States taking a lead role in that response, » Gina Castillo, CRS policy adviser on climate change, said in a statement. « At COP28, we will be pushing United States negotiators to advance policies that address immediate needs and pave the way for a sustainable and equitable future for all. »
Pope Francis presided at his weekly audience with the public at the Vatican, but he said that he’s still unwell and asked an aide to read his remarks for him on Nov. 29, a day after canceling an overseas trip.
Francis, who will turn 87 on Dec. 17 and had part of one lung removed as a young man, coughed near the end of the hourlong audience in a Vatican auditorium as he made some final comments, then stood up from his chair on the stage to give his blessing.
With a soft voice, barely above a whisper, Francis told the public that « since I am not well, » his reading of his speech wouldn’t sound « pretty. » He then handed the printed speech to the aide.
But Francis did speak at the end of the audience, voicing his contentment over the truce in fighting between Israel and Hamas, and saying he hopes it continues « so that all the hostages are released and access necessary to permit humanitarian aid » to reach Gaza is provided.
« They lack bread, water, the people are suffering, » Francis said.
On Tuesday, the Vatican announced that doctors had asked the pope, who has a lung inflammation causing breathing problems, to skip a three-day trip to a U.N. climate conference, known as COP28, in Dubai. The trip would have begun on Dec. 1 and have seen the pontiff return to Rome on Dec. 3.
The Holy See’s announcement of the canceled trip also said that his medical condition had improved, but noted that the pope had the flu and « inflammation of the respiratory airways. »
The pontiff, who has made caring for the environment a priority of his papacy, wants in some way to participate in the discussions in the United Arab Emirates, according to the Holy See. It was unclear if Francis might read his address to the climate conference by videoconference or take part in some other form.
The Vatican said the pope had acquiesced to the doctors’ request « with great regret. »
Before the pope came onstage for the weekly audience, he met with members of Celtic, a soccer team from Glasgow, Scotland, which has strong Catholic roots.
« Excuse me, but with this cold, I cannot speak much, but I am better than yesterday, » Francis told team members.
While he let a priest read his remarks, at the end, the pope praised the « beauty of playing together. » The pontiff, an avid soccer fan from Argentina, told the players that he would greet them one by one.
« It doesn’t matter if we have won or haven’t won, » Francis told the team, which was eliminated Tuesday night from the Champions League, Europe’s elite soccer competition, after losing 2-0 to a Rome team, Lazio.
Toward the end of the Nov. 29 audience, circus performers came on stage to entertain the pope with an acrobatic act. Francis looked amused as he watched the performers, including acrobats and a juggler. He posed with the group for a photo.
« I want to say thanks for this moment of joy, » Francis said, adding that the circus expresses the human dimension of « simple joy, » and asking the audience to applaud.
Francis was hospitalized earlier this year for three days for intravenous treatment with antibiotics of what the Vatican then said was bronchitis.
The Vatican said the pontiff in his current illness was receiving antibiotics intravenously. In a televised appearance on Nov. 26, a cannula for intravenous use was visible on his right hand. A CT scan, performed at a Rome hospital on Nov. 25, had ruled out pneumonia, according to the Vatican.
Russia’s extensive drone attack on Kyiv Nov. 25 damaged the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ.
Russia launched close to 75 Iranian-made Shahed drones at Ukraine’s capital, as Ukrainians marked Holodomor Remembrance Day, which commemorates the 7 million to 10 million victims of an artificial famine waged by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin from 1932-1933 against Ukrainians.
No fatalities were reported, but five individuals were injured.
The assault was Russia’s largest drone attack on Kyiv since the start of the full-scale invasion in February 2022. Ukraine’s forces said 74 of the drones had been successfully eliminated. Kyiv remained under an air raid alert lasting more than six hours.
One Shahed drone was shot down in the Dniprovskyi district of Kyiv, beside the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ and the residence of Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, or UGCC.
The debris impacted doors and shattered windows within the cathedral. A nearby multistory building sustained even greater destruction, according to the UCGG information department.
The UGCC reported that « six windows in the basement of the Patriarchal Cathedral were damaged, » as « the blast wave shattered the glass panes.
« The hardware on four cathedral doors was damaged, and door locks were torn off, » said Vasyl Bukatyuk, director of the Construction Directorate at the UGCC Patriarchate.
Bukatyuk said that Shevchuk’s residence also suffered damage.
« The hardware on three doors was affected at both the Patriarchal residence and the Patriarchal curia, » he said.
Slight damage to the cathedral facade also was documented, and fragments of varying sizes from the drone were gathered on its grounds.
« In return for gifts from St. Nicholas, we’ll be receiving unique souvenirs, » said Shevchuk.
According to the Ukrainian Institute for Religious Freedom, some 500 religious sites in Ukraine have been « wholly destroyed, damaged, or looted by the Russian military » between the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022 and January 2023. That number has only increased since then, according to Religion on Fire, a nongovernmental project headed by several Ukrainian religious scholars.
On July 23, Russia launched an X-22 anti-ship missile that struck the Ukrainian Orthodox Holy Transfiguration Cathedral (Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral) in the port city of Odesa. The missile directly hit the central altar, as a result of which the cathedral building and the three lower floors were partially destroyed, while the interior and icons were significantly damaged.
Since launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 — which continues attacks begun in 2014 — Russia has killed more than 10,000 Ukrainian civilians (including 510 children) and injured some 18,500, while committing close to 113,525 documented war crimes. From 2014 to 2021, some 14,400 Ukrainians were killed and 39,000 injured in Russian attacks, according to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
At least 2.5 million Ukrainians have been forcibly taken to the Russian Federation, and close to 19,600 children are being held in Russian « re-education » camps, with the actual number for the latter feared to be much higher.
Currently, there are an estimated 5.1 million individuals internally displaced within Ukraine, according to the International Organization for Migration, part of the United Nations network. More than 6.2 million Ukrainians have sought safety abroad since the start of the full-scale invasion.
In a July 2023 joint report, New Lines Institute and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights reiterated their May 2022 conclusion that Russia has violated the 1948 Genocide Convention through its atrocities in Ukraine.
An effective proclamation of the Gospel must speak with hope to the real-life problems of the poor, to the need to protect the Earth and to the ability of people of goodwill to change the social and financial systems that harm the poor and the environment, Pope Francis said.
« Ten years after the publication of Evangelii Gaudium [‘The Joy of the Gospel’], let us reaffirm that only if we listen to the often-silenced cry of the earth and of the poor can we fulfill our evangelizing mission, live the life Jesus proposes to us and contribute to solving the grave problems of humanity, » the pope wrote to a conference marking the anniversary of his first exhortation.
The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development organized the conference Nov. 24, the anniversary of publication of the exhortation, which was widely described as outlining Francis’ vision for his pontificate.
In his message to the conference, the pope said the proclamation of the Gospel today — like it was for the church of the first centuries — « requires of us a prophetic counter-cultural resistance to pagan, hedonistic individualism, » resistance « to a system that kills, excludes and destroys human dignity, resistance to a mentality that isolates, alienates and limits one’s inner life to one’s own interests, distances us from our neighbor and alienates us from God. »
Being a « missionary disciple, » he said, means working for the kingdom of God by struggling for justice, providing food to the hungry and working for a fair distribution of goods.
Putting the poor at the center of one’s concern, the pope wrote, « is not politics, is not sociology, is not ideology — it is purely and simply the requirement of the Gospel. »
The practical implications of that requirement could vary, depending on whether one is a government leader or a business owner, a judge or a labor union worker, he said, « but what no one can evade or excuse themselves from is the debt of love that every Christian — and I dare say, every human being — owes to the poor. »
Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the dicastery, told participants that the « joy of the Gospel » comes « from the encounter with the risen Lord who, passing through the humiliation of the cross, takes upon himself the sin, weakness, miseries and poverty of the human race, so that all might share in his victory over death. »
The joy of the Gospel, the cardinal said, gives Christians and the whole church the grace, motivation and strength « to go beyond referring to its own self and move toward the margins, in order to look right at that suffering humanity often considered as mere ‘waste,’ as inevitable and acceptable ‘collateral damage,’ as ‘necessary sacrifice,’ as an ‘offering’ owed to the idols of consumption. »
Juan Grabois, founder of the Confederation of Popular Economy Workers in Buenos Aires, Argentina, told the conference about how he moved away from the church in adolescence and young adulthood believing the church to be « reactionary, hypocritical, accommodating and distant from the serious social problems of my country and the world. »
Then, about 20 years ago, he heard the archbishop of Buenos Aires, the future Pope Francis, give a homily supporting the rights of the « cartoneros, » the people who lived off collecting paper and other objects for recycling.
The pope, he said, has always advocated « for the poor, the excluded and the oppressed, be they individuals, groups or peoples. »
« This aspect of his personality remained when he was elected pope, » Grabois said. « Francis has continued to advocate for the poor just as before, but with more strength, with a strength that did not slacken, and his voice is heard all over the world. »
Living in a way that cares for the poor and for the Earth will mean sacrificing some material comforts, he said, « but Francis tells us that if we fulfill this Christian mandate, if we fulfill it well, we will be happy, that this is where we will find Jesus again, that this is the wellspring of faith, that this is where the joy of the Gospel is to be found. »
« He proposes that we exchange well-being for joy, » he said.
Evangelii Gaudium is a document on evangelization, but it also advances Catholic social teaching, several participants noted. It shows the inextricable bond between the church’s mission and care for the poor that goes beyond charity.
« There is nothing more anti-Christian, anti-Catholic, than the divorce between spirituality and social liberation, » Grabois said. By his words and example, Jesus taught that Christians must love their neighbor and care for the poor.
Czerny said that if one were to print out everything the pope has said and written in the past 10 years and weighed them, « I suspect that the spiritual, theological, ecclesial content is heavier than the social, » but the media tends to focus on his pronouncements on social issues without highlighting how they are connected.
Dominican Sr. Helen Alford, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, told the conference that St. John Paul II was the first pope to teach that Catholic social teaching was part of Catholic moral theology — highlighting how faith has implications for the way a believer must live and act in society and not only in one’s personal life.
« With St. John Paul, you get this idea [of social teaching] really coming into the center of the church’s evangelizing mission. And not everybody’s understood that yet, » she said. By calling his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, she said, Francis is continuing to give a central place to the connections between faith and life, especially as they impact the poor.
The impacts of climate change and intense human activity threaten a river owned by a Catholic archdiocese in Kenya. Through better informing local communities and farmers about what causes the river to dry up and become polluted, the Catholic Archdiocese of Nyeri hopes to aid in protecting the Kalondon River and its surrounding land.
Made in 1902 by Consolata Missionaries who had settled in Mathari, the small river in Kenya has been flowing ever since. The missionaries needed water for their domestic use and to generate electricity for a missionary hospital and school, so they were given the land by the colonial government. When the missionaries left the country, the Archdiocese of Nyeri started the process to formalize its ownership by acquiring a title deed for the river and the land it passes through.
The aim of ownership was to serve as a means of conserving the water and land and assuring its continued existence in the future. According to church management, the river has been of great benefit to the church, schools and surrounding communities, but they say some locals disagree with them about how the river should be used.
Recently, the river has been facing numerous challenges, including logging upstream, waste dumping from locals and illegal tapping. Farming activities near the river lead to soil erosion, siltation, illegal irrigation and the dumping of toxic chemicals. Some farmers along the river are using four-inch diameter pipes for irrigation, which goes against the irrigation act in Kenya.
Archbishop Anthony Muheria of the Nyeri Archdiocese has been at the forefront of pleading with locals to protect the river by shunning illegal dumping and problematic methods of farming around bodies of water.
The bishop expressed concern over the damage of forests and the dumping of solid and liquid waste not only in the Kalondon River, but also other water sources in the country, which he said spells doom in the future.
« People must take care of water sources not only in Kalondon, but all water sources, and practice sustainable use of water if they expect to continue benefiting, » he told EarthBeat.
The Kalondon River splits from the Murungato River toward Mathari. It gets its water from the Aberdare Ranges, among the largest of Kenya’s water towers. The river flows to Nyarungumu, a densely populated village in Nyeri County in the central Kenya region, covering two acres before returning to its source through Nyeri Hill Farm, which is also owned by the archdiocese.
According to Nyeri-based priest Fr. John Githinji, parishioners in collaboration with surrounding communities occasionally conduct cleaning that protects river banks from erosion, but illegal tapping and tilling of the land that comprises the banks remains a threat to this vital ecosystem.
« We usually do some cleaning once in a while and reforestation along the banks to protect the river, but unfriendly activities continue. As a church we cannot take somebody to court to protect the river, but we will continue doing what we’ve been advised to do by our leaders, » he told Earthbeat in Nyeri.
Another threat to the river is the growing of eucalyptus trees along the banks by farmers who try to sell the trees for timber. Experts say they require a lot of water and contribute to the decreasing water level. In other countries, the government has banned eucalyptus trees along river banks. Some even cut the trees down without informing the owners.
Activities such as bathing, doing laundry and sand harvesting also have been identified as threats to the river’s health, according to Githinji. These are small things that can be controlled if communities are better informed on the issues.
The church has been educating locals on the importance of sustainable river use that serves community needs without causing damage to the source. They are trying to raise this awareness not just in churches, but also in the surrounding villages and with local farmers by showing them more effective ways to use water from the river without negatively impacting it.
Though some community members have organized themselves into small groups to support conservation measures along the river, Githinji said the awareness they’ve been raising to save the river needs more support from the community, non-governmental organizations and the government.
Elias Waweru, a Kikuyu community elder in Nyarungumu village who has been at the forefront of spreading awareness against illegal dumping in the river, said that they are working hard to curb illegal activities along the river, but sometimes things go beyond their powers.
« Some farmers along the river are not ready to listen to us and they just do things deliberately knowing that we’ve nowhere to take them » to hold them accountable, said Waweru.
Waweru said the river serves over 100,000 households but only a fraction of them understand the importance of river conservation. He and other locals have planted more than 5,000 Indigenous trees along the river, but the majority of the trees they have planted have disappeared due to overgrazing and encroachment.
In the Aberdare Ranges, the Kalodon River’s source, logging and encroachment is getting intense, which along with climate change impacts, like prolonged droughts, also decreases the river’s water level.
Reuben Maina, an environmental activist in Nyeri County, said if something isn’t done soon, the river might vanish. He expressed concern about lifting a ban on logging in the country, saying that the move will worsen climate vagaries.
« We’re already experiencing a climate crisis in this country and I am very saddened by the government move to lift the ban on logging. A river like this one will not survive. It is already struggling due to massive logging upstream, » said Maina.
He noted that there used to be creatures in the river, which was a sign of clean water. But nowadays there are none because the water has been polluted, making it difficult for any organism to survive.
Judith Mwangi, a farmer along the river, cautioned all those using banned pipe sizes and cultivating their land up to the river banks to stop.
« If the communities and farmers would like to continue benefiting from the river, then everybody must take responsibility to protect it and practice sustainable use of its water, » said Mwangi.