Environment Article – Edward de Quay, Laudato Si’: How far have we come in five years?

Edward de Quay, Project Manager for the Bishops’ Conference Environmental Advisory Group, looks at how Catholics in England and Wales have responded to Laudato Si’ and how each of us can be part of that response.

This article, written by Edward De Quay, first appearing in The Pastoral Review in May 2020 and re-circulated by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales during the Season of Creation in September 2020, focuses on the legacy of Laudato Si’ in England and Wales.

To those keenly waiting for the publication of Laudato Si’ (LS) the text was a relief. Led by Scripture and grounded in science, it identified care for creation as key to our faith, recognising that “science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both” (LS 62). By accepting the signs of the times and understanding them through the lens of our faith, Pope Francis presented a powerful case to care for our common home.

Equally important was his insight that the ecological crisis we face is a human one; that climate change is a symptom of a problem that cannot be solved without addressing the root cause, which is our way of living and thinking and interacting with the world: “The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life” (LS 2). Drawing on the teaching of Pope St John Paul II, we are asked to embark on the journey of a “profound interior conversion”, leading to an “ecological conversion” (LS 217).

So far so good. Laudato Si’ was also a call to action, to wake up to climate change and understand that the cry of the poor – which we have always prided ourselves on being responsive to – is intertwined with the cry of the earth, which has been perhaps more difficult to identify. This article will focus on the practical imprint the document has made on the Catholic Church in England and Wales over the past five years.

Laudato Si’ is incredibly challenging at a personal level, and this has been evident in the difficulty many have found in engaging friends, family and parishes in its themes. In 2017 the Bishops’ Conference convened an Environmental Advisory Group, and while progress has been made in the following three years under the guidance of Bishop John Arnold, there is still a mountain to climb.

In principle, we are well poised to be agents for change. Globally there are 1.3 billion baptised Catholics, or 17.7 per cent of the world population. This is also, perhaps, a rare topic where we are in agreement with a prevailing societal view – that climate change is a fundamental problem to be addressed urgently. More than this, we have been ahead of the times in terms of our teaching.

In 1971, Pope Paul VI noted in his apostolic letter Octoagesima Adveniens: “Man is suddenly becoming aware that by an ill-considered exploitation of nature he risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation.” Pope St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, too, were outspoken on the topic. Pope Francis was able to bring together the threads of his predecessors into the tapestry of Laudato Si’, developing their understanding of care for creation and human development being two sides of the same coin, and criticising the consumerist mentality which fails to acknowledge this reality. There is no need to leave this topic to David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg. Catholics have a rich understanding of how care for our common home contributes to a life lived well. The science is important, but it’s only half the conversation.

On top of this, Pope Francis is a well-liked diplomat, and the political significance of Laudato Si’ should not be understated. The document was released, it is safe to assume, deliberately in the run-up to the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris in 2015, where it was acknowledged as influential and inspirational to the delegates. Archbishop Bernardito Auza, then Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, described how “not only had practically every delegate heard of Laudato Si’; Pope Francis was cited by more than thirty Heads of State or Government in their Interventions at the Plenary Session”. The resulting ‘Paris Agreement’ was a milestone in climate diplomacy, and is due to come into force when the UK hosts the twenty-sixth conference in Glasgow in November 2020.

Nationally too, Laudato Si’ has been influential. In 2018, the then secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, gave the Theos annual lecture on the environment, heavily referencing Laudato Si’, which he considers “remarkable for the depth of thought which goes into addressing the twin challenges of climate and social justice, for considering in depth both the science and theology of climate change, and for exploring the spiritual, ethical and religious dimensions of one of the greatest challenges facing the world”. He went on to state that “the Pope’s solutions in Laudato Si’ are clear and sensible, and ones on which I think we can all agree”.

We have another incentive to act – particularly in England and Wales. Quoting the bishops of Bolivia, Pope Francis states that “the countries which have benefited from a high degree of industrialization, at the cost of enormous emissions of greenhouse gases, have a greater responsibility for providing a solution to the problems they have caused” (LS 170). The Prime Minister has in fact committed us to this, acknowledging in his speech to launch COP26 that as we were first to industrialise, it is proper that we are the first major economy to meet net-zero by 2050.

Our own Bishops renewed their commitment to care for creation in 2019, with the written statement Guardians of God’s Creation, in which they call for the development of a “Christian spirituality of ecology” which begins in “personal and family life”. Perhaps this appears to be passing the buck, but the “interior conversion” needed to tackle the ecological crisis is a personal responsibility for everyone. Furthermore, it is in the schools that we see perhaps the most engaged action, where, at primary level at least, students can explore the issue outside of grown up concepts like ‘realistic expectations’, ‘economic progress’ or ‘funding constraints’. “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19.14). Like children, we should ask “why?” more, questioning the prevailing logic of the world and looking for truth and beauty. In a recent homily, Pope Francis reflected on the ‘apostasy of Solomon’ passage in the first book of Kings, saying that “for us this slippery slide in life is directed toward worldliness. This is the grave sin: ‘Everyone is doing it. Don’t worry about it; obviously it’s not ideal, but…’ We justify ourselves with these words, at the price of losing our faithfulness to the one and only God.” This ‘Christian spirituality of ecology’, both the key and biggest obstacle to engaging in the ecological crisis, must start in personal and family life, inspired by bold leadership.

In Guardians of God’s Creation, the Bishops committed themselves and invited their people to engage in this urgent challenge, “so that together we show leadership by our actions”, looking to “avoid the worst consequences of this ecological crisis by engaging now and over the next decade on this ‘long path to renewal’”. Some dioceses already have environmental policies in place, such as Middlesbrough and Hexham and Newcastle, and others have committed their dioceses to action through pastoral letters and Diocese-wide events.

As far back as 2007, Clifton Diocese organised a year-long series of events exploring our relationship to the natural world through the eyes of faith, under the title ‘The Sound of Many Waters’. CAFOD, too, have been running their livesimply award to celebrate parishes living simply, sustainably and in solidarity with the poorest since 2006. In Lent 2019, Bishop John Arnold issued a pastoral letter in which he challenged every parish to help “make the Diocese of Salford a flagship for ways to heal and care for our common home”, as well as announcing the development of a ‘Laudato Si’ Centre’ in the grounds of Wardley Hall. In Advent 2019, Bishop Richard Moth issued a similar challenge to his Diocese of Arundel and Brighton, urging it to “wake up” to our ecological crisis, as well as launching the ‘Journey to 2030’ project. Run by Catholic youth in the Diocese, it commits to a decade of action, and provides a simple ‘getting started guide’ for parishes at journeyto2030.org.

One way the Bishops’ Conference has indicated the importance of engaging with this topic is through the commissioning of two films produced by Catholic Faith Exploration (CaFE). Global Healing (2018) and Global Caring (2019) are TV-quality films engaging in the spirituality and practicalities of Laudato Si’, in a format designed to promote discussion and community-building in a parish setting. The Jesuits in Britain have also taken on the educational challenge, launching the Laudato Si’ Research Institute at Campion Hall, Oxford and an MA in Theology, Ecology and Ethics at Roehampton University last year.

Another national response has been the work done by the Catholic Church’s energy procurement group, Inter-diocesan Fuel Management (IFM), which supplies 2,800 churches with green electricity and gas, including landmarks such as Westminster, Nottingham and Plymouth Cathedrals. This contract is also available to Catholic schools, institutions and religious orders. The cost is kept down by buying energy together, so the more buildings we have on the scheme the better it becomes. Two dioceses, Lancaster and Middlesbrough, and several religious orders have also gone one stage further by announcing that their investment portfolios will no longer include fossil fuel companies.

There are many inspiring stories from schools and parishes across England and Wales, which deserve to be told. It is important to celebrate what we do achieve, be this improving recycling rates, insulating our churches and schools better or generating greener energy, opening allotments, banning plastics from parish activities, holding film and information nights and promoting eco-friendly behaviours, all while building a sense of community in the parish. All of this happens and happens well.

To return to the idea of asking “why?” more often, this can be as grand as challenging economic systems and as simple as looking at the contents of your own shopping basket. Often, there are no definitive answers, and the best approach is to allow those that have the skills and the time to engage in the issue and to come up with a locally workable solution. Even simple question like “why do we buy cut flowers?” could lead to interesting conversations. Perhaps this will come about by looking at what the parish buys, where it comes from, how it was traded, and whether better, more ethical, sustainable alternatives are available. Perhaps not every parish will come up with the same solution, but by engaging in the problem we learn more about the issues and our responsibilities as Christians to care for our neighbour.

This problem of unethical sourcing driven by the ‘culture of consumerism’ is criticised by Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ and returned to in his recent apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia (QA), or ‘Beloved Amazonia’, a region of the world directly affected by our consumerist behaviour. “The globalized economy shamelessly damages human, social and cultural richness” (QA 39). “The land has blood, and it is bleeding; the multinationals have cut the veins of our mother earth” (QA 42). Speaking at a press conference to launch the document, Bishop John Arnold added that “the environmental questions are enormous because what they’ve been doing in the Amazon is not sustainable. The use of fossil fuels and the mining cannot be sustained and is doing dreadful damage. We’ve got to be aware of our role in that, that so many of the products of the Amazon are consumed by us, and are not even for the benefit of the people of that region.”

Changing our consumer habits helps bring pressure on those who wield political, economic and social power. Pope Francis argues that “this is what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products. They prove successful in changing the way businesses operate, forcing them to consider their environmental footprint and their patterns of production. When social pressure affects their earnings, businesses clearly have to find ways to produce differently. This shows us the great need for a sense of social responsibility on the part of consumers. Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act” (LS 206).

Alongside our individual and community efforts, it is right that we are active politically. CAFOD have taken Laudato Si’ to heart, concentrating effort through their ‘Our Common Home’ campaign. A current action is a petition to the Prime Minister addressing issues raised in Querida Amazonia around support for local, sustainable agriculture and clean energy. This campaign recognises that it is the poorest and most vulnerable who pay the price of climate change, despite having done the least to cause the problems. CAFOD is also active in interfaith and wider society action, such as the ‘Time is Now’ lobby last June, where over 380 members of parliament came out to talk to their constituents about climate change. The National Justice and Peace Network is also focusing on ecology at their annual conference this June, entitled ‘2020 vision – Action for Life on Earth’.

This is another important part of asking “why?” like children and being awake to the ways our society affects our global neighbours. In the run-up to COP26, it is especially important to make our voices heard, and Pope Francis encourages us to do this:

“For this reason, all of us should insist on the urgent need to establish a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems … otherwise, the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics, but also freedom and justice” (QA 52).

When we stand back and look at the big picture, as illustrated by this entirely insufficient overview, it is of a church in motion. There is something everyone can do to encourage this ‘profound interior conversion’, no matter how small, as there is a “nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle.” (LS 211)

To conclude and re-emphasise, this article lists a tiny fragment of the Church’s efforts both from organisations and individuals. Every parishioner’s efforts build up the collective action of the Church.

You can download this article as it appeared in The Pastoral Review.

Climate Sunday launched. Churches invited to take part from Sunday 6th September 2020

‘Climate Sunday’ has been launched to provide a focus for churches across Britain and Ireland committed to action on climate change.

Climate Sunday has been organised by the Environmental Issues Network of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, supported by charities including CAFOD, Christian Aid, Tearfund, A Rocha UK, and Operation Noah.

Local churches are encouraged to hold a Climate Sunday any time during a one-year period from 6 September 2020 – the first Sunday in the annual Season of Creation.

Free resources are being provided to suit every tradition and style of worship. Each church is invited to do one or more of three things:

1. To hold a climate-focused service to explore the theological and scientific basis of creation care and action on climate, to pray, and to commit to action.

2. To make a commitment as a local church community to taking long term action to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions.

3. Join with other churches and wider society by adding its name to a common call for the UK government to take much bolder action on climate change in advance of COP26, and to strengthen its credibility to lead the international community to adopt a step change in action at COP26.

The culmination of the campaign will be a national Climate Sunday event on Sunday 5 September 2021, to share church commitments and pray for bold action and courageous leadership at the COP26 UN climate talks in Glasgow in November 2021.

Bishop John Arnold of Salford, the bishop responsible for the environment for the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, said: “We need to recognise the damage we’re doing to the environment and our failure to look after our brothers and sisters in our common home. In a post-pandemic world, the Climate Sunday project is an excellent opportunity for Catholic parishes in England and Wales, as well as our ecumenical brothers and sisters, to understand responsibility to heal our planet and to pray and act in response to the climate emergency.”

To register for Climate Sunday visit: www.climatesunday.org

Original article on Independent Catholic News

Laudato Si’ Week 2020 around the world

The Global Catholic Climate Movement has produced a video showing the creative ways in which hundreds of thousands of Catholics on every continent marked their commemorations of Laudato Si’ Week for the fifth anniversary of the encyclical (16-24 May 2020.)

If you look closely you will even see a picture from the UK of a group at Farm Street Church, including our Justice & Peace chair, Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, announcing the divestment of a number of religious organisations from fossil fuels!

The real work has only just begun, though, and Pope Francis now wants us to spend a further year focusing on the message of Laudato Si’ that will help us unite around the international goal of protecting our common home. This will help us prepare to make a significant contribution to the UN Climate Conference COP26, which it has now been announced will take place 1-12 November 2021 in Glasgow.

The next step is to continue with all our individual actions, promises and goal-setting while looking towards the Season of Creation, 1 September – 4 October 2020 as the next significant time set aside for collaborative action.

Get involved!

Season of Creation – Global Catholic Climate Movement Website

Jesuits in Britain divest from Fossil Fuels

Earth Day 2020

On Wednesday 22 April, the world will observe International Earth Day.

Leela Ramdeen writes:

Here are some things we can do to demonstrate our love for our earth:

1. Develop an environmental spirituality.

2. Assess our lifestyle and consumption. Practice these four ‘Rs’ for sustainable living: Reuse, recycle, reduce, restore.

3. Prevent pollution, reduce our carbon footprint, and become advocates for God’s Creation.

4. Promote sound environmental management practices e.g. energy efficiency, water conservation, waste avoidance, composting, using environmentally responsible products, and car-pooling.

5. Enjoy nature and live in harmony with it.

Full article in Independent Catholic News

Leela Ramdeen is Chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, (CCSJ) and Director of CREDI

Laudato Si’ Week 2020

The Pope has today invited Catholic communities around the world to a week of celebration (16-24 May 2020) to mark the 5th Anniversary of the encyclical Laudato Si’ and to urge us to even greater efforts in the care of our common home. Individuals, schools, parishes and other groups in Westminster are invited to get in touch to let us know what they are doing to mark this week. We will announce more events and resources soon.

Pope Francis reviews urgent call to COP23 Bonn Climate Conference

Pope Francis has sent a letter to participants in the COP-23 UN Convention on climate change, taking place in Bonn, Germany on 6-17 November. The letter was sent to Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama of the Fiji Islands, which is officially hosting the event, and was read out to COP-23 participants.

In the letter Pope Francis congratulates the world leaders present at the COP-23 event and invited them “to maintain a high level of cooperation.”

He renews his “urgent call” for renewed dialogue “on how we are building the future of the planet,” saying: “We need an exchange that unites us all,” he said, “because the environmental challenge we are experiencing, and its human roots, regards us all, and affects us all.” The Pope warned participants not to fall into “four perverse attitudes” regarding the future of the planet: “denial, indifference, resignation and trust in inadequate solutions.”

Finally, Pope Francis sent his well-wishes that the COP-23 would be “inspired by the same collaborative and prophetic spirit manifested during the COP-21” event at which the historic Paris agreement was signed.

The official translation of the Pope’s message follows:


Nearly two years ago, the international community gathered within this UNFCCC forum, with most of its highest government representatives, and after a long and complex debate arrived at the adoption of the historic Paris Agreement. It saw the achievement of consensus on the need to launch a shared strategy to counteract one of the most worrying phenomena our humanity is experiencing: climate change.

The will to follow this consensus was highlighted by the speed with which the Paris Agreement entered into force, less than a year after its adoption.

The Agreement indicates a clear path of transition to a low- or zero-carbon model of economic development, encouraging solidarity and leveraging the strong links between combating climate change and poverty. This transition is further solicited by the climatic urgency that requires greater commitment from the countries, some of which must endeavour to take a leading role in this transition, bearing in mind the needs of the most vulnerable populations.

These days you are gathered in Bonn to carry out another important phase of the Paris Agreement: the process of defining and constructing guidelines, rules and institutional mechanisms so that it may be truly effective and capable of contributing to the achievement of the complex objectives it proposes. In such a path, it is necessary to maintain a high level of cooperation.

From this perspective, I would like to reaffirm my urgent call to renew dialogue on how we are building the future of the planet. We need an exchange that unites us all, because the environmental challenge we are experiencing, and its human roots, regards us all, and affects us all. […] Unfortunately, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis are often frustrated for various reasons ranging from denial of the problem to indifference, comfortable resignation, or blind trust in technical solutions (cf. Encyclical Laudato si’, 14).

We should avoid falling into the trap of these four perverse attitudes, which certainly do not help honest research or sincere and productive dialogue on building the future of our planet: denial, indifference, resignation and trust in inadequate solutions.

Moreover, we cannot limit ourselves only to the economic and technological dimension: technical solutions are necessary but not sufficient; it is essential and desirable to carefully consider the ethical and social impacts and impacts of the new paradigm of

development and progress in the short, medium and long term.

From this perspective, it is increasingly necessary to pay attention to education and lifestyles based on an integral ecology, capable of taking on a vision of honest research and open dialogue where the various dimensions of the Paris Agreement are intertwined. It is useful to remember that the Agreement recalls the “grave … ethical and moral responsibility to act without delay, in a manner as free as possible from political and economic pressures, setting aside particular interests and behaviour” (cf. Message to COP-22). This means, in effect, propagating a “responsible awareness” towards our common home (cf. Encyclical Laudato si’, 202; 231) through the contribution of all, in explaining the different forms of action and partnership between the various stakeholders, some of whom do not lack to highlight the ingenuity of the human being in favour of the common good.

While I send my greetings to you, Mr President, and to all the participants in this Conference, I hope that, with your authoritative guidance and that of the Fiji Islands, the work of these days will be inspired by the same collaborative and prophetic spirit manifested during the COP-21. This will enable an acceleration of awareness-raising and consolidate the will to make effective decisions to counteract the phenomenon of climate change while at the same time fighting poverty and promoting true human development as a whole. This commitment is supported by the wise providence of God Most High.

This post already appeared on ICN News

Advent Declaration for Fossil Free Churches

This article first appeared on Independent Catholic News

By: Ellen Teague

Could your church join with other local churches and religious communities across the UK in making a commitment to divest from fossil fuels? In doing so, you can support the campaign for UK Churches to divest at a national level.

If your church has existing fossil fuel investments, this would involve a commitment to divest within five years. Churches without fossil fuel investments (for instance those with just a bank account) can make a divestment commitment by pledging not to invest in fossil fuels in the future.

Operation Noah, an ecumenical Christian organisation responding to the climate crisis, is expecting a joint divestment announcement will be made on the weekend of the First Sunday of Advent (Sunday 3 December). If your church would like to join the announcement, please let Operation Noah know by Thursday 30 November.

For more information or to register your divestment commitment, please email James Buchanan on james.buchanan@operationnoah.org.

The text of the Advent Declaration can be found below:

Advent Declaration for Fossil Free Churches

As we prepare for the coming of Christ into our lives this Christmas, we the undersigned wish for our investments to be a sign of hope, contributing to the flourishing of God’s creation, both now and for generations to come.

We support the campaign for fossil free Churches and, conscious of the impact of climate change on our sisters and brothers around the world – especially those living in poverty, we recognise the urgency of the need to shift from fossil fuels to a brighter, cleaner future.

Our church / religious community, [insert name here], therefore commits to divest any existing fossil fuel investments within the next five years (for churches with existing fossil fuel investments) and pledges not to invest in fossil fuels in the future.

For more information see: http://brightnow.org.uk/

North London parishes mark Creation Day with a picnic and Tug of War

CreationDaySt Mellitus Justice and Peace group organised a splendid picnic in Finsbury Park, north London, to mark the World Day of Prayer for Creation yesterday, Sunday 3 September. The weather was not on their side, but it did not stop all present, including Fr John O Leary, parish priest, from having a great time.

A sprinkling of parishioners from St John Vianney’s West Green and St Thomas More, Manor House Parishes, as well as Catholic Worker members, made it possible to organise two Tug of War teams – St Mellitus versus the Rest of the World.

Alas, St Mellitus proved greatly superior to the latter – a mystery to Fr Joe Ryan, a former Irish champion in this sport! Food to bring and share was abundant so that a pile of respectable leftovers was donated to the nearby Catholic Worker. All appreciated the joys of creation amongst many other picnicking groups. This is St Mellitus’ third Creation picnic. The parish looks forward to many more, with the silly games that are such a fun feature!

Westminster Justice and Peace deeply disappointed by US environment backtracking

The Westminster Justice and Peace Commission is deeply disappointed by the actions of President Trump regarding energy and climate change, which cuts across all the endeavours of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church towards a new way of caring for creation.

On 29 March 2017 Donald Trump signed legislation – an Energy Independence Executive Order – which has undermined all Barack Obama’s policies to combat climate change by reducing emissions from fossil fuels. Central to the changes is a review of Barack Obama’s clean power plan – a pledge to cut US emissions by 26-28% by 2025 – which paved the way for the Paris agreement on tackling climate change involving 195 countries

Through this action, he has swept away green legislation at a stroke of the pen, and has enforced his statement that global warming was a ‘hoax’ invented by the Chinese. Crucially, the Paris accord of 2015 has been seriously undermined on greenhouse emissions and his actions also threaten to derail the worldwide fight against global warming. His plan will therefore make it impossible for the US to meet its Paris obligations.

Yet the US is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases – behind China, and most of the world looks to the US for leadership and shared responsibility when it comes to saving our planet for future generations. When leaders of poorer nations see the lack of resolve on the part of the US they are likely to think twice about investing cash into schemes that will not produce immediate results in their political lifetime.

To be committed to climate change means that one has to be there for the long haul and work to pass on a sustainable world to future generations. There is NO ‘quick fix’ which is what many people would like in life. Environmental groups and all who are concerned with the care of our planet need to unite together in a sustained plan of action. We need to proclaim the message of Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ letter on ‘the care of our common home’, as never before. We must not be diverted by those who either deny or are indifferent to the task in hand. Now is the hour for renewed efforts.

Fr Joe Ryan (Chair) and Barbara Kentish (Fieldworker)

On behalf of Westminster Justice and Peace Commission

For further information contact the Commission on 0208 888 4222