Good Samaritan Sister Geraldine Kearney’s lack of knowledge on cricket didn’t dampen her recent meeting with the jovial and inspirational Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa.
BY Therese Spruhan
From the 1950s, the Cathedral of St George the Martyr in Cape Town became widely known as a site and focus of resistance against apartheid. It was the place where Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivered most of his sermons, and because of the congregation’s role in speaking up against injustice it became known as “The People’s Cathedral”.
During her few days in Cape Town late last year, Geraldine visited the cathedral. After some quiet time in the sacred space, she became sure of one thing – she would like to meet Archbishop Tutu.
After making enquiries and some persistence on Geraldine’s part, she ended up being invited to morning tea. “Something just moved me to keep persisting,” said Geraldine.
“I knew I had to meet this man who had inspired me for so long. In the end when Vivienne, Tutu’s private secretary, invited me to morning tea I couldn’t believe me ears, as this was all done on the phone from the little cathedral shop where I had just bought the book Tutu written for his 80th birthday.”
Geraldine met with the Archbishop after attending the International Human Rights Education Conference in Durban in late November last year. At this conference she presented a paper on “Climate Justice: A Matter of Human Rights”, which focused on the loss of land, identity and culture as a result of climate change on small, low-lying Pacific Islands.
After visiting Cape Town she travelled back to Durban for the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held from November 28 to December 9. The focus of this annual conference was to assess progress in dealing with climate change and to make decisions and resolutions.
“My time in Cape Town was memorable and beyond description,” said Geraldine.
One of the highlights was a reflective evening at the Aquila Game Park. “I was struck by the vastness and magical beauty of the ever-changing landscape, in all the different lights and hues,” she explained.
Visiting Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island, Geraldine was inspired by the insight she gained into the history of the South African struggle for freedom from apartheid.
Meeting Archbishop Tutu was cause for further inspiration, understanding, and some concern. “My lack of knowledge about cricket was a source of concern for him!” joked Geraldine, who described Desmond Tutu as small in stature, jovial and with an infectious laugh.
“We sat and chatted over a cup of coffee. How privileged I was to spend time with him and meet his delightful staff.”
Returning to Durban, Geraldine represented the Pacific Calling Partnership (PCP) delegation at the COP17 to the UNFCCC. PCP advocates for the low-lying Pacific Island nations suffering the impacts of climate change, particularly Kiribati. She was also a member of the Kiribati Government delegation and represented her congregation in her capacity as delegate for social justice.
Over the busy 12 days she stood in solidarity with members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) at their daily meetings and met with other Kiribati Government delegates. She participated in the Interfaith Rally before the conference and the Durban Rally during the conference. She attended daily Climate Action Network Australia meetings for updates on negotiations, and had daily contact with the Pacific Island pavilion and their many networks.
Other highlights were attending an evening for Indigenous groups from the Many Strong Voices Network and working with fellow PCP member, Claire Anterea, to facilitate interviews and on-going network connections and awareness-raising.
The major outcome of the conference was nearly 200 countries signing a deal (Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) to work towards a legal agreement on the climate by 2015, which would come into force from 2020.
While impressed with the leadership of the EU at the conference, Geraldine was somewhat perturbed that the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action is targeted to be in place only by 2015.
“I’m afraid I see a greater urgency. However, I am optimistic that at least the parties reached an agreement towards a legally binding instrument that will hopefully be implemented and embraced by all countries.
“We need to ensure that the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action delivers a strong legal instrument by 2015, and it is imperative that all of us, without exception, muster the necessary ambition and political will to keep global warming as far below two degrees C as possible.”
Geraldine said her days in Durban were “blessed and enriching, demanding and provocative”.
“As Delegate for Social Justice in my congregation, and in my role on various committees, I continue to be impelled to stand for the voiceless.
“I also continue to be inspired by those who have fought long and courageously for the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed, and whose undaunted spirit moves me ever forward,” she explained.
This is an edited version of an article by Therese Spruhan, first published in the February 2012 edition of Pathways, the e-news of Catholic Religious Australia.