June 2016

Laudato Si’ continues to inspire

It’s a year since Pope Francis’ ground-breaking encyclical Laudato Si was released. Catholic Earthcare Australia’s Tess Corkish outlines the impact of the Pope’s eco-manifesto, particularly here in Australia.

BY Tess Corkish

The year 2015 marked a turning point in the global response to climate change. It was a year when Pope Francis wrote extensively about the need for Catholics – and all people of good will – to respond to the ecological crisis. It was also the year the UN Climate Change Conference was held in Paris, the twenty-first such meeting since 1992.

In 2015 the conversation about climate change shifted from a target of 2 degrees Celsius global warming to 1.5 – a target which will better protect the world’s most vulnerable. Pope Francis’ ground-breaking encyclical Laudato Si’ has inspired millions of Catholics all over the world to better respond to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. In Australia, the conversation has even seen a shift towards a compassionate response.

Whilst we in Australia have seen minimal responses from our politicians, and even deliberate obstruction on the part of some of them, average citizens and organisations are heeding Pope Francis’ call. Catholic Earthcare Australia has been inundated with invitations and requests for support, with hundreds of schools, parishes and Catholic organisations exploring ways to bring Laudato Si’ into their lives.

In my role as Youth Engagement Officer, I have personally engaged with over 4,000 students across Australia, with more requests coming in every week. Recently I had the pleasure to visit four schools in the Diocese of Sale and was delighted to see the way that teachers and students had embraced the message and the call in Laudato Si’. They, like so many others I’ve met, spoke about their love for creation and their desire to protect it. It’s been fantastic to see how children and young people are making connections between the world around them and their faith.

Since the release of Laudato Si’ I’ve also witnessed a strong thirst for knowledge and support to act on climate change from all parts of society. While participating in a non-violent direct action training session with the refugee support group “Love Makes a Way”, I met a woman from Catholic Social Services Australia who then came to Catholic Earthcare Australia for support in preparing their organisational response to Laudato Si’. I also met an Anglican minister who was subsequently arrested with my mother while blocking coal trains in and out of Newcastle last month.

Laudato Si’ has not just called Catholics to respond to the ecological crisis; it has been a call to every living person on the planet. Inspired by Pope Francis’ leadership, friends I made during the Emerging Leaders Multifaith Climate Convergence in Rome last year went on to develop climate declarations from their own faith traditions, including the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change and the Hindu Declaration on Climate Change.

Undoubtedly, Pope Francis’ clear moral voice on the ecological crisis has affected the global response. While most civil society groups went into the Paris climate talks in December hoping that world leaders would not step back from the limit of 2 degrees of warming, most had not dared to hope that we would seek to limit it further.

Pope Francis’ call to defend creation and each other has resonated in even the hardest of hearts, helping to create a climate agreement designed to protect those living on low-lying islands, as well as my generation and generations to come. Anecdotally, I have heard that Australia was instrumental in lobbying for this change to a limit of 1.5 degrees, surprising many. While Australia’s target is much lower than is necessary to keep to this limit, the fact that this limit has been created is a testament to the importance of love and compassion in the conversation.

Since the release of Laudato Si’, Catholic Earthcare Australia has been at the heart of the Australian response. We have been involved in planting seeds and are eager to see them grow over time. We’ve held formation programs for adults in 23 diocese across Australia, inspiring and encouraging people to care for our common home. As some people are only just beginning their journeys as advocates for the earth, it will be exciting to see the changes that they make in their local communities.

Next month I will head to Poland for World Youth Day with the Global Catholic Climate Movement where we will be running an environmental festival for pilgrims. While I’ve already had the opportunity to admire and appreciate the Australian response, I’m looking forward to seeing how the faithful from all over the world are implementing the call of Laudato Si’ in their lives. I’m sure it will be a great experience of mutual learning and support.

There have been fantastic developments over the past 12 months, but we still have a long way to go. Science continues to tell us that we are still on a very destructive path. As you read this, I’ll be on the small island of Wagina in the Solomon Islands, a country which just last month lost five islands to rising sea levels. Still, Laudato Si’ provides a map for hope in the face of the ecological and social crises.

On this first anniversary of Laudato Si’, let us take time to mourn what has been lost, but also to rise once again to our feet and become ambassadors for creation. With our Federal election looming here in Australia, will you join me and others and pray for leadership that hears the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor? If you are in Sydney on June 25 please come along to the Climate Rally at Steyne Park, Double Bay, and show your solidarity with our Pacific brothers and sisters.

Tess Corkish

Tess Corkish has been volunteering as part of the climate movement for six years. She is currently working as a Youth Engagement Officer with Catholic Earthcare Australia.

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