Under the aegis of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, presented in Rome – in the John Paul II Hall of the Holy See’s Press Center – was the appeal signed by “Cardinals, Patriarchs and Bishops from across the globe addressed to those negotiating the COP 21” (Conference of the Parties on climate change) that will take place in Paris from 20 November to 11 December 2015. This initiative draws inspiration from the Encyclical Letter Laudato sì, even though there was relatively little echo of the latter in the mass media, and may be considered historical in scope because it represents an official and unified position assumed by the Church at large at its highest levels, and addressed directly to world leaders. The document, introduced by Fr. Federico Lombardi, was actually presented by representatives of all the continental groupings of national episcopal conferences: Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay and President of the Federation of the Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC), Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez, archbishop of Bogota and President of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM), Most Rev. John Ribat, archbishop of Port Moresby and President of the Federation of the Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania (FCBCO), Most Rev. Gabriel Mbilingi, President of the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), Most Rev. Jean Kockerols, auxiliary bishop of Mechelen-Bruselles and Vice-President of the Commission of the Episcopacies of the European Community (COMECE), while Most Rev. Joseph Kurtz, Metropolitan archbishop of Louisville and President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), was not present in Rome but had signed the document. Likewise representing Africa was the president of the primary promoter, the aforementioned Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana. Present among others in the hall, and thereby giving further weight to this appeal, were Cardinal Peter Erdő, the Hungarian archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest (President of the Council of the Episcopal Conferences of Europe – CCEE), Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raȉ from Lebanon and Patriarch of Antioch (Maronites) representing Catholics from the Middle East, and, among laypersons, Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele de Strihou of the Catholic University of Louvain, and Bernd Nilles, international secretary of CIDSE (The International Alliance of Catholic Agencies for Development).
At a time when efforts deployed by many parties strive to exploit the highlighting of alleged or real divisions and opposing factions more so than communion and ecclesial unity, the list of names above quite eloquently bespeaks the importance that the institutions of the Church at various levels attribute to the conference organized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which for the first time – this is what is augured – after decades of sterile discussions and round tables, could reach a universal agreement legally binding for all nations. In this appeal the promoters delve deeper into some of the charges already present in both Pope Francis’ encyclical and his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations on 25 September last. In their minds, we as humanity are facing a dramatic epochal passage where what is threatened is not (only) this or that natural resource, but the selfsame future of life on earth, sheltered from environmental disasters and catastrophes, and especially so for the poorest countries that are more exposed and structurally more defenseless when natural calamities strike. Far from fanning the flames of groundless alarmism, the signatories bring to the forefront the concerns of the most seriously affected persons among those entrusted to their care ( for example, in Latin America, where the increased duration of periods of drought during the year along with ever more frequent floods have had devastating effects on the life of already indigent local farming communities, without even mentioning the issue of the mounting decrease of continental forests, the true lungs of the planet earth). In addition, they present a ten point policy document (in the sense of concrete lines of action to be adopted and not vague exhortations) which provides a very critical reading of some of the processes of the latest wave of economic and financial globalization with respect to both the unanswered demand for justice (it is not true that superficially more visible development in certain areas of the world has led to an effective improvement in the living conditions of one and all, because any wealth produced has not been redistributed at all on site), and the effects and costs of the surrounding environment’s resilience (increasingly less respected and protected, often as a result of insane processes of privatization swiftly implemented from one day to the next with nothing at all in the way of legislation, arbitrators or controls). In brief, all too many poor people still remain completely outside the “advanced rationales” of global development, and all too little is the amount of care dedicated – by the selfsame leaders who champion those rationales – to what the encyclical calls our “common home”.
It is therefore a matter of assuming a political leadership which is more solidarity prone (rethinking a concept of more inclusive economically and socially material progress that finally places at the center the dignity of the person as the benchmark of judgment for his decisions) towards those now excluded from major decision-making fora, and at the same time ethically responsible for choices that have a meaningful global impact on the future living conditions of the world’s population. Moreover, above and beyond affected technicalities, it is a matter of a political leadership that acknowledges the climate and atmosphere that make our life on earth possible and permit a wholesome enjoyment of the beauties of creation (of which, in evangelical terms, man remains an administrator pro-tempore, never an absolute proprietor) as true goods to really be safeguarded (cf. Laudato sì, 23 and 95), because an a-critical pursuit of the technocratic paradigm of “growth for the sake of growth” to utmost profit no matter what the cost may be and regardless of the moral dimension of choices and decisions will never be bereft of consequences for future generations. Hence the final appeal to the heads of state and government gathered together at the great world summit in Paris: “We join the Holy Father in pleading for a major break-through in Paris, for a comprehensive and transformational agreement supported by all based on principles of solidarity, justice and participation. This agreement must put the common good ahead of national interests. It is essential too that the negotiations result in an enforceable agreement that protects our common home and all its inhabitants”.