Report – Talk by Fr Sean McDonagh on Biodiversity, 17th February 2022

Fr Sean McDonagh

Source: Ellen Teague, Independent Catholic News

Huge concern over the loss of Biodiversity in the natural world and a call for Churches to engage with the issue was explored at an online talk on 17 February. It was organised by the Livesimply group of St John Vianney parish in West Green, Westminster Diocese, a Livesimply award-winning parish.

Watch the talk

The speaker was eco-theologian Fr Sean McDonagh, who is now based in Ireland, but worked in the Philippines for two decades, particularly with the T’boli tribal people. His 2004 book, ‘The Death of Life,’ gave a prophetic warning about diminishing Biodiversity. Around 70 participants included parish priest Fr Joe Ryan and parishioners, representatives of the National Justice and Peace Network from other dioceses – including Clifton, Hexham and Newcastle, and Leeds – and some international friends from as far afield as Taiwan, Australia and the United States.

Fr Sean spoke of the international meeting in Kunming, China, in a few months’ time. This Conference of Parties (COP15) offers opportunities to make links between Biodiversity and issues raised in the Climate Change talks in Glasgow in November 2021 and with Pope Francis’ Encyclical entitled ‘Laudato Si – On Care for our Common Home’. It is hoped that strategies to stem the crisis of extinction will be devised.

Some countries which are poor economically and very susceptible to severe climate impacts are rich in species, such as the Philippines. Sean reported that Kew Gardens has information on 1.8 million species – but there could be 10 or 100 times that number, particularly in the world’s hotspots for diversity. Species are becoming extinct, largely because of habitat destruction, before they can be discovered. “We are living through the greatest extinction since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago,” he warned, “and the cause is human activity.” Sean presented chilling statistics: 24% of large animals currently face extinction and 30% of birds. Water ecosystems are threatened and oceans increasingly polluted. He highlighted how important biodiversity is to human food security and health, quite apart from the right of other species to survive, which is a concern highlighted in the latest statement of the Filipino bishops on Ecology two weeks ago.

Sean hoped COP15 would get the same publicity and support as the COP26 UN climate talks in Glasgow last November. He himself has engaged with the Irish government over its COP15 delegation and urged participants to dialogue with their own country representatives. Columban JPIC internationally is in talks with the UN coordinators and seeking accreditation to the meeting.

Sean called for Christian Churches to be sensitive to the challenge of mass extinction of species and to justice for future generations. Good stewardship is central to Christian tradition. “We need a pro-life theology” said Sean. He quoted the patron of the Columban missionaries, St Columban, who said, “if you wish to know the Creator, learn about Creation.” Laudato Si’ underlined this issue and its inclusion in Catholic Social Teaching in 2015. “The Church should be part of the debate,” he said.

Sean invited participants to look at issue of Biodiversity in the vicinity of their parishes and support environment and justice groups such as the RSPB and Birdwatch Ireland, which are protecting birds. On advocacy, he suggested challenging chemical agriculture. He also asked, “how can we live more simply?” and “how can we build a better understanding of the Seasons and Earth systems?” All this should link in with prayer and liturgy. He called on parishes and Catholic organisations to work though the Laudato Si’ encyclical and consider responses.

In the discussion, Colette Joyce of Westminster J&P reported that “for those who live in the South of England we have a Southern Dioceses Environment Network which meets monthly for prayer, input from speakers on a range of topics related to the care of creation, discussion and mutual support, with an accompanying monthly newsletter.” It is open to anyone and includes Diocesan and CAFOD staff as well as parishioners and clergy.

Join the Southern Dioceses Environment Network

There was a general feeling that system change is needed in the area of economics and it would be great to see Church leaders speak out about this, as Pope Francis has done. Such structural change is needed to address both Biodiversity and the Climate Crisis. “We need to challenge an economic model based on relentless growth, consumption and profit” was one comment in the chat.

Daniel St Guillaume, Chair of the Livesimply group at West Green, chaired the meeting and reflected afterwards that the presentation, “reached an audience which may not have heard about Biodiversity and how it affects our daily lives.” He added that, “Fr Sean has encouraged us to go out and spread the word in our parishes.”


Healthy People, Healthy Planet petition:

CAFOD’s livesimply award:

Columban Biodiversity Podcasts:

Columban Laudato Si’ Study Guide:

Catholic Concern for Animals:

UN Convention on Biodiversity –