Vie de l'église

Jerusalem cardinal: Israeli, Palestinian leaders must urgently find political solution

The current war between Israel and Hamas may finally force a diplomatic solution to the long intractable tensions between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the Holy Land, said the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem.

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, 58, who has served as patriarch of Jerusalem since November 2020, said that while there have been constant conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians since the State of Israel was formed in 1948 and even earlier, this time, it feels very different, and a comprehensive political solution may be the only way to stop the ongoing bloodshed.

« It is a political conflict, first of all, that now is assuming more and more religious connotations, unfortunately. This makes things more difficult because religion is less open to any kind of compromise, » Pizzaballa told the Rhode Island Catholic, the newspaper of the Diocese of Providence, in an Oct. 27 interview at the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Pizzaballa said that now is the time for leaders to concentrate their efforts on finding a viable solution for all those living in the Holy Land, including the Palestinians living in the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip.

While the focus of the war has been on the Gaza Strip, after Hamas terrorists breached the border and killed more than 1,200 Israelis and people of other nationalities and kidnapped about 240 others in a brazen attack on Oct. 7, Palestinians living in the West Bank have become increasingly agitated.

They are decrying what they feel is Israel’s disproportionate use of force in its goal to dislodge and decimate Hamas in Gaza, ending the terror organization’s 16-year rule over the coastal enclave, since it ousted the Palestinian Authority in 2007. The Palestinian Authority still controls parts of the West Bank. The latest figures released by the Gaza Health Ministry indicate that more than 16,000 Palestinians overall have been killed, of them more than 3,000 children.

The IDF has also gone into the West Bank in search of Hamas operatives who are known to reside there, and outbreaks of violence have erupted. Tourism has all but ceased in Bethlehem, leading to the closure of many local businesses that support visitors, according to a local Catholic pastor there.

Pizzaballa feels that the time is now for political leaders to finally make good on slogans that have only paid lip service to resolving the long-term conflict.

« I think that, first of all, what is missing over the last 20 years is a lack of projects. We need a political project for these two peoples. A Two-State Solution was a slogan without content for many years. Now, we have to give to this slogan some content, » he said.

« Now, it is quite difficult, but this situation reminds us that it is necessary to find a solution, » he said.

The Latin patriarch has visited Gaza several times, with his last visit there being about seven months ago. He described the bleak conditions that many of the 2.2 million people living in the Gaza Strip — which is approximately six miles wide and 25 miles long — endure each day. Of those 2.2 million, there are about 1,000 Christians living in Gaza.

« The situations they are living in are very problematic, but, at the same time, I saw a very serene community, a Christian Catholic community. It is the smallest community and the less-complaining community. They are aware that they are much supported by us, » Pizzaballa said.

While the Christian community in Gaza is exponentially smaller than the Muslim community among the 2.2 million residents — nearly 90% of whom are currently displaced from their homes by the war — it has had an outsized footprint on everyday life there.

According to Joseph Hazboun, regional director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s Jerusalem Field Office, CNEWA has been providing support to 17 local agencies working in the health, education and social services sectors of the areas they serve. The organization served between 300,000 and 400,000 people a year. It’s not their numbers; it’s their services that they provide, » Hazboun said in an interview with Rhode Island Catholic.

Pizzaballa said that Christians have mostly had normal relations with Muslims in Gaza.

« They try to have as good a friendship as possible, but of course they also have the radical ones, » he said, noting the existence of some radical factions among the Muslims who would rather disrupt peaceful relations with Christians than promote them.

« You can build your relations with those that are accepting you, » he added.

Pizzaballa was in Rome on Oct. 7 and said he had not yet received the news of the brutal attack on Israel until he was called by a priest in Jerusalem for an official comment.

Before he left to return to Jerusalem, the patriarch spoke with Pope Francis about the unfolding situation.

« He expressed to me his sorrow and pain and said that I should do everything to stop this war and to try reconciling the positions as much as possible, » Pizzaballa said.

« The pope is only repeating what he has been writing all along, that war is a defeat, any war is a defeat, » Pizzaballa added.

When the cardinal arrived back in Jerusalem, the tenor felt different from previous conflicts he had experienced in the Holy Land since he had entered the first of several positions he had held there since 1990.

« There was a level of perception that this is something new and that maybe, with time, it will become clearer, » he said.

The cardinal released a pastoral letter to the faithful of his diocese, condemning acts of violence and calling for a just and lasting peace in the Holy Land.

He denounced unequivocally the « atrocity » that Hamas wrought upon Israel on Oct. 7, noting that violence is not compatible with the message of the Gospel and will never bring peace.

At the same time, Pizzaballa called for an end to the « decades of occupation » and « a clear and secure national perspective to the Palestinian people, » which he said is the only way that a serious peace process can begin.

« We owe it to the many victims of these days and to those of years past, » he said. « We do not have the right to leave this task to others. »

In the context of a media interview, which he granted shortly after his return from Rome, Pizzaballa suggested that he would offer to trade himself for the hostages held by Hamas. The news went viral, traveling around the world almost immediately, even before he had a chance to discuss it with his superiors.

But the Latin patriarch feels that one must always be bold and assert their message of truth, regardless of how political officials may react.

« It is difficult, of course, because we are in very polarized positions, » Pizzaballa said. « Everyone wants you to say what they want to hear, while I have to say and what I feel in conscience I need to say according to the Gospels. And that is not immediately understood. »

Vie de l'église

Catholics call on nations at COP28 to adopt new treaty to phase out fossil fuels

Nations meeting in Dubai should adopt a new treaty charting the end of fossil fuel use, a group of Catholic institutions wrote in a letter to the president of the COP28 climate change summit.

The Catholic letter, issued Dec. 5, lays out seven key priorities for the nearly 200 countries assembled in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for the annual United Nations climate conference, where talks are taking place around the global response to climate change under the 2015 Paris Agreement. The letter is addressed to COP28 president Sultan al-Jaber, who in that role is leading the proceedings.

It was issued by 14 Catholic organizations: the Laudato Si’ Movement; Caritas Internationalis, along with national Caritas chapters for the U.S. (Catholic Relief Services), England and Wales (CAFOD), Scotland (SCIAF) and Germany (Misereor); religious order groups at the U.N. UNANIMA International, Vivat International and Carmelite NGO; Medical Mission Sisters; International Young Catholic Students; International Movement of Catholic Students; Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa; and Boston College. In addition, the letter has been signed by more than 14,600 people, as of Dec. 6.

Chief among the Catholic groups’ priorities is the progressive elimination of fossil fuels. They cite the recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that restated carbon emissions must be nearly halved by 2030, and approach net zero by 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — the more ambitious temperature goal that nations agreed to under the Paris accord, and a level scientists say would prevent millions of people from facing more devastating heat waves, droughts, wildfires and extreme storms.

Global emissions are on track to hit a record high this year, and fossil fuel production continues to expand, while the past 12 months have been the hottest on record. The « global stocktake » progress report at the center of COP28 has shown nations well off pace in meeting the 1.5 C limit, with warming set to nearly double that level by the end of the century under climate policies currently in place.

Burning coal, oil and gas releases heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, which are primarily driving climate change. While the Paris Agreement spells out emissions reduction targets, it does not stipulate how countries achieve them nor does it mention fossil fuels. 

Trying to address climate change without talking about fossil fuels is akin to trying to change a lightbulb without removing the bulb, said Lorna Gold, board president of Laudato Si’ Movement and executive director of FaithInvest, during an official COP28 side event where the letter was presented.

« It feels sometimes at COPs that we’re … going around the place talking about everything apart from the one thing we need to be doing, » she said.

Two years ago, at COP26 in Glasgow, nations for the first time stated the need to « phase down » the use of « unabated coal power. » A focal point at COP28 — which has attracted a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists — is whether nations will include in the final text a commitment to halt the use of fossil fuels. A working draft issued Dec. 5 laid out options of « an orderly and just phase out of fossil fuels » or « accelerating efforts towards phasing out unabated fossil fuels » or no mention at all.

More than 100 countries have unified behind a phaseout of unabated fossil fuels, which refers to emissions that cannot be captured and stored, while oil-and-gas producing countries have resisted the « phaseout » phrasing.

Al-Jaber himself has come under fire for comments before COP28 questioning the scientific basis for a need to phase out fossil fuel use. The IPCC report, along with numerous other scientific reports, have spelled out the connection between emissions from burning fossil fuels and rising global temperatures, with nearly 90% of carbon emissions in the atmosphere from coal, oil and gas.

« One thing is clear: To have a decent chance of holding to the 1.5 °C limit, fossil fuel extraction must begin to decline immediately, phase down rapidly in the coming decades, and cease worldwide by 2050, » the Catholic letter stated.

For countries to do that, the Catholic groups say a new pact is needed due to the Paris Agreement’s omission of fossil fuels, and they called on governments to adopt a parallel Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

A growing number of Catholic and other faith groups have rallied behind the grassroots-led fossil fuel treaty since its introduction in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has garnered support from nearly 100 cities and thousands of civil society groups. Eleven countries have endorsed the treaty proposal so far, including Colombia and Samoa at COP28. Tzeporah Berman, chair of the treaty initiative, was among the speakers at the Catholic letter event. 

While the Holy See, now an official party to the Paris Agreement, has not taken a stance on the proposed treaty, individual Vatican officials have voiced support.

In a recorded message at the COP28 event, Archbishop Lizardo Estrada Herrera, secretary general of CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ council, said the Paris accord « must be complemented by a binding treaty to ‘end the fossil fuel era,’  » referring to Pope Francis’ call in his 2023 World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation message.

In his 2015 encyclical « Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home, » Francis stated « the use of highly polluting fossil fuels — especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas — needs to be progressively replaced without delay. » In his recent apostolic exhortation Laudate Deum he bemoaned that eight years later « the necessary transition towards clean energy sources such as wind and solar energy, and the abandonment of fossil fuels, is not progressing at the necessary speed. »

Francis in his message to the Dubai climate summit, read by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, stated that for COP28 to be a successful « turning point » will require countries to agree to binding and monitored commitments that include eliminating fossil fuels as part of an accelerated transition to renewable energy sources.

The Catholic letter joined in calling for countries to triple global renewable energy capacity by 2030. At COP28, more than 120 countries backed that goal, along with doubling energy efficiency.

Other asks by the Catholic institutions include:

  • « Clear, actionable, and specific paths » from the global stocktake process to put countries back on track to meeting the Paris goals, in ways that respect human rights and Indigenous people;
  • Comprehensive operationalization of the loss and damage fund for countries hit hardest already by climate impacts, like more extreme heatwaves, droughts and storms;
  • Policies that take into account and address « entrenched structural causes » driving climate change in the economy and society;
  • Recognition of the need for cultural changes, including in personal lifestyles, beyond technological fixes.

« As leaders, your decisions will determine the fate of our common home and the common good of present and future generations, » the letter stated.

During the COP28 event, Catholic speakers highlighted the ways climate change has adversely impacted women and vulnerable places like island states, and noted steps Catholics can take through education, investments and their purchasing.

Fr. Jean Rajoelison, deputy secretary general of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, said the Catholic community asks leaders at COP28 « to recognize their moral duty and commit to urgently taking ambitious action to protect our common home and the most vulnerable. »

Vie de l'église

Archbishop honored for ‘shepherding’ Puerto Rico after hurricane, amid economic downturn

Archbishop Roberto González Nieves of San Juan, Puerto Rico, « possesses a passionate heart that beats with a pastor’s love for his people, for the people’s growth and well-being, and for the future of the people of God in Puerto Rico, » said Fr. Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension.

The priest made the comments in presenting Catholic Extension’s Spirit of Francis Award to the archbishop, who, he said, is « truly a good shepherd leading, nurturing, strengthening and giving his very life every day so that God’s people in Puerto Rico may continue to build up vibrant and transformative Catholic faith communities, especially among the poorest of the poor on the island. »

The award recognizes an individual or group who has made a significant impact on the mission of the Catholic Church in America through service or philanthropy.

González received the award in New York City at Catholic Extension’s ninth annual Spirit of Francis Award dinner Nov. 28. The Chicago-based nonprofit bestows the award annually on an individual or group who has significantly impacted the Catholic Church in the U.S. through service or philanthropy.

Five cardinals attended the dinner, including Blase Cupich of Chicago, who is chancellor of Catholic Extension; Wilton Gregory of Washington; Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States; Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston; and Timothy Dolan of New York. Also in attendance were Bishop Luis Miranda Rivera of Fajardo-Humacao, Puerto Rico, and Bishop Angel Luis Rios Matos of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

González « has been a vital leader to the Puerto Rican community, shepherding and advocating for Puerto Rico through the long, ongoing recovery following Hurricane Maria, other natural disasters, the pandemic and economic downturn, » Catholic Extension said in announcing the award, which is inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis and its founder, Fr. Francis Clement Kelley.

In his remarks, González said it is an honor he is « unworthy to receive. »

« I accept it as a call and a grace to renew my vowed service to the Lord, his people and his church, » he said, thanking Catholic Extension « for financially and spiritually supporting the church in Puerto Rico since 1905 to the present time. »

« Extension has helped repair and rebuild damaged church structures, and helped us secure necessary funding, which we otherwise would not have been able to secure, » González said. « This is an extraordinary expression of ecclesial and missionary solidarity and love. »

The prelate, who grew up in New York and describes himself as a « child of the Puerto Rican diaspora, » has headed the Archdiocese of San Juan since 1999.

The archbishop’s reference to 1905 in his remarks is the year Catholic Extension was founded to build up Catholic faith communities in underserved regions, including Puerto Rico.

Since 2017, Hurricane Maria and a series of earthquakes crippled the U.S. island territory’s economy and infrastructure, damaging more than 600 facilities, many of which include historical, centuries-old Catholic churches, Catholic schools, and mission chapels serving the island’s most remote communities, across five Puerto Rican dioceses affected from the natural disasters. The majority of damaged Catholic churches and schools are located in San Juan, according to Catholic Extension.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency « was slow » to respond but « the Catholic Church was not, » according to Extension. For the past six years, Catholic Extension has organized and led the disaster recovery program for five Catholic dioceses in Puerto Rico, « who collectively seek to rebuild facilities across the archipelago of Puerto Rico, making it perhaps the largest rebuilding project in American Christianity. »

To date, $332.2 million of the estimated $400 million in damages « have been obligated by FEMA to the Puerto Rican dioceses, » which allows them to « begin the long-awaited reparation of facilities. » Currently, 15 projects involving 58 facilities are underway, and in addition Catholic Extension said its recovery team also secured an additional $43 million in a competitive grant program that will enable Catholic schools « to be rebuilt more resiliently to serve as safe shelters during future disasters, which will ultimately save lives. »

In an interview before the dinner, Cupich discussed the efforts of Catholic Extension to help Puerto Rico’s dioceses rebuild and restore churches and schools, but he emphasized that the Catholic Church is « not about buildings » but « about communities. » By giving the faithful « a space where they can gather, a place that they can call home, where children can be educated and the faith passed on and celebrated, we’re doing something for not only this generation but future generations, » he said.

Cupich added that he has known Archbishop Gonzalez for many years. As a Franciscan, Archbishop Gonzalez « really is steeped in the tradition of St. Francis » and his desire « to serve the poor … to preach the Gospel in a way that allowed the faith of others to be nourished, » the cardinal said.

González  has a « love of people » and « really cares about human beings so that they flourish in every way possible, » he added. « He’s just a great human being. »

At the dinner, Dolan said the evening of celebrating « the life and ministry of Archbishop González and Catholic Extension’s work of rebuilding the church in Puerto Rico » was reminder « of the deep-rooted connections that bind us together as one human family and as a people of faith. »

« We gather in this spirit of friendship, reaffirming our commitment to stand in solidarity with one another, even as we care for the poor, the downtrodden, and the vulnerable of our society, » he added.

Proceeds from the dinner will benefit the work of Catholic Extension in Puerto Rico.

[Julie Asher, OSV News senior editor, contributed to this story.]

Vie de l'église

From afar, Pope Francis helps inaugurate first-ever Faith Pavilion at UN climate summit

The first-ever Faith Pavilion at a United Nations climate change conference was inaugurated Dec. 3 in Dubai, with video messages from Pope Francis and Egypt’s grand imam of Al-Azhar, who both called the world to work simultaneously for peace and preserving a livable climate.

In brief prerecorded remarks, Francis characterized peace and climate change as the most important issues facing the global community today.

The Faith Pavilion at COP28 is the result of a collaboration among host nation United Arab Emirates, the U.N. Environment Programme, the Muslim Council of Elders and a coalition of other faith-based partners around the world. Throughout the two-week summit, the Faith Pavilion will host 65 events featuring speakers from 54 countries. One of its goals is to elevate the voice of religious leaders within the climate negotiations space and to serve as a venue for country delegates to encounter faith-based organizations.

Among those attending the inaugural event on Day 4 of the climate conference were COP28 president Sultan al-Jaber, Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Mohamed Abdelsalam, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Elders, and Miguel Ángel Moratinos, high representative for the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations.

Francis, as well as Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayeb, a top cleric in Sunni Islam, had planned to attend the pavilion’s opening at COP28 in person. But the pope had to call off his three-day trip days before the climate summit began when he fell ill with acute bronchitis.

In his message, Francis spoke softly and thanked those behind the Faith Pavilion’s creation, saying it « testifies to the willingness to work together. »

« At the present time the world needs alliances that are not against someone, but in favor of everyone, » he said. « It is important that religions, without falling into the trap of syncretism, set a good example by working together: not for their own interests or those of one party, but for the interests of our world. Among these, the most important nowadays are peace and the climate. »

Similarly, al-Tayeb, addressing the war between Israel and Hamas, stated « I implore the world: It is time to halt these atrocious, criminal wars. »

« I am convinced that if they persist in this manner, God forbid, we will be left with neither a viable environment nor a livable climate for our children or future generations, » he said.

After the recorded messages, a video played showing both religious leaders signing onto an interfaith statement addressed to COP28, which demanded that nations collectively take « transformative action » to hold average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius — a key goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement — and outlined 13 calls to action, including a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy sources. Since the late 1800s, the planet has heated 1.1 to 1.2 C, and global emissions need to be reduced nearly in half by 2030 to keep the 1.5 C warming limit within reach.

Al-Tayeb called climate change « one of the most serious challenges facing humanity today » and described COP28 as « a precious opportunity to enhance the efforts of protecting our common environment from imminent destruction, which is looming larger year after year. »

The establishment of the Faith Pavilion at COP28 is the latest effort by the world’s religions not only to speak in a unified voice on the protection of the planet, its people and ecosystems, but also to have a greater role within U.N. proceedings. Ahead of COP26, the pope hosted 40-plus faith leaders who signed a then-unprecedented interfaith letter calling for more urgent and ambitious responses to climate change. And last year in Montreal, the COP15 U.N. summit on biodiversity hosted its first Faith Pavilion.

Following the inaugural event, 30 religious leaders issued a statement from the Faith Pavilion that called on the nearly 200 countries at COP28 to adopt the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to halt all new fossil fuel projects and outline a just and equitable path to fully abandon coal, oil and gas for renewable sources. 

The fate of fossil fuels is at the center of debates at COP28. In a joint announcement, 106 countries, including the 27 nations in the European Union, have endorsed a global phaseout of unabated fossil fuels, which refers to emissions that cannot be captured and stored. The U.S. has also indicated its support.

The Faith Pavilion statement also pressed negotiators to fully fund the Green Climate Fund, which was meant to provide $100 billion annually to developing countries by 2020, and to extend and diversify funding for the newly established loss and damage fund. Finally, they advocated that « forceful accountability measures » be established to hold nations to their commitments and to account for inaction or delays.

“Faith leaders are united with climate scientists and activists to say: now is not the time to deny the science, » Rabbi Yonatan Neril, founder of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, said in an accompanying statement.

In a longer message during the Dec. 3 event, read by Parolin as was the case a day earlier at the world leaders’ segment of the climate conference, Francis said the Faith Pavilion « shows that all authentic religious beliefs are a source of encounter and action. »

He stressed the need for people to see past divisions and view one another as brothers and sisters who are finite creatures.

« For we are indeed mortal, we have our limits, and protecting life also entails opposing the rapacious illusion of omnipotence that is devastating our planet, » the pope said. « That insatiable desire for power wells up whenever we consider ourselves lords of the world, whenever we live as though God did not exist and, as a result, end up prey to passing things. Then, instead of mastering technology, we let technology master us.

« That is why the problem of climate change is also a religious problem: its roots lie in the creature’s presumption of self-sufficiency, » Francis said in the remarks read by Parolin.

The pope again stressed the need for urgent action for the sake of the environment. He said it is not enough to increase spending, but « we need to change our way of life and thus educate everyone to sober and fraternal lifestyles. This is an essential obligation for religions, which are called to teach contemplation, since creation is not only an ecosystem to preserve, but also a gift to embrace. »

He continued, « A world poor in contemplation will be a world polluted in soul, a world that will continue to discard people and produce waste. »

Along with ushering an ecological conversion, religions are also tasked with peacekeeping, Francis said.

« Before our very eyes, we can see how wars and conflicts are harming the environment and dividing nations, hindering a common commitment to addressing shared problems like the protection of the planet, » he said.

The pope’s words emphasized the relationship between work for climate justice and for peace, said Josianne Gauthier, secretary general of CIDSE, a network of mostly European-based Catholic development agencies.

Gauthier attended the Faith Pavilion inauguration, watching a livestream outside of the area where the presentations took place. While « a bit small and formal, » she told EarthBeat it is an important space and one she hopes is continued in future climate COPs.

Jesuit Fr. Rigobert Minani, at COP28 representing the Ecclesial Network of the Congo Basin, added that he believed the Faith Pavilion has already helped to give faith-based organizations a greater presence at the summit. He told EarthBeat he believes it can also help religions learn from one another, and to assist country delegates in developing interconnected approaches to mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage from climate change.

Within the opening days of COP28, nations have reached a series of deals.

They finalized a loss and damage fund, and 15 nations and the European Union have so far pledged $655 million in initial financing, including $100 million from the UAE and $17.5 million from the U.S, which also pledged an additional $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund. The loss and damage fund aims to help countries that have already suffered destruction and both economic and noneconomic losses from climate-related impacts.

The U.S. announced a new rule to nearly wipe out emissions from methane — a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide — and 50 oil companies pledged to mostly eliminate methane emissions from operations by 2030. Nearly 120 countries have committed to tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030, and in a separate deal, 20-plus countries announced plans to triple nuclear energy production by 2050.

Environmental groups offered mixed reactions to the pledges, noting that most of the deals announced so far are voluntary and do not require any reduction of the use of fossil fuels, whose burning releases heat-trapping greenhouse gases that are primarily driving climate change. Numerous Catholic and faith groups have joined calls for countries at COP28 to commit to a full phaseout of fossil fuels.

On Dec. 2, Colombia, a large oil-producing country, became the 10th nation to endorse a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

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Pope Francis urges ‘clear,’ ‘tangible,’ ‘decisive’ progress at UN climate summit in Dubai

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.’
—Pope Francis 

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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. » 

Vie de l'église

First Sunday of Advent: What are we waiting for?

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.

Vie de l'église

Cardinal Tobin: Faith leaders can influence the world on climate change

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.

Vie de l'église

US bishops on COP28: Decarbonization is ‘preeminent environmental challenge’

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. »

Vie de l'église

Ailing Pope Francis holds weekly audience, but aide reads his remarks

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.

Vie de l'église

Russian drone damages Kyiv’s Catholic cathedral

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.