Monday 18th October – Faith Communities Call On Boris Johnson To Tackle Climate Crisis Before Crunch Time COP26

On Monday 18th October 10.00 BST representatives from Christian, Muslim, Jewish,
Buddhist and Hindu groups will hand in a statement for the Prime Minister at No.10 Downing
Street telling the Prime Minister he has a “unique position to lead the world in tackling the
climate crisis” with the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow less than two weeks away.


The statement will specifically call on the Prime Minister to:
● Keep 1.5C warming limit agreement alive
● Ensure rich countries meet commitments to meet and exceed $100bn in climate
finance each year to countries hardest hit by the crisis
● End further support for fossil fuels everywhere

The five faith leaders who will take part in the hand in are:
● Rt Rev Olivia Graham – Bishop of Reading
● Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg – Senior Rabbi, Masorti Judaism
● Imam Emad Choudhury – Imam at Bahu Trust
● Avnish Thakrar – National Coordinator, Hindu Climate Action
● Olivia Fuchs – Eco Dharma Network.

The moment is being organised by the aid agencies CAFOD, Christian Aid, World Vision,
SCIAF, Tearfund, and the Faith for the Climate network.

Dr Shanon Shah, Director of Faith for the Climate said:

“We are incredibly proud of the people of diverse religions in the UK and around the world who
have come together with a single message to the leaders who will represent us at COP26:
destroying the planet is against our religions. We’ve demonstrated that for people of faith,
prayers, reflections and meditations are necessary but not enough. We need urgent and
decisive action to address this climate crisis which most severely affects the people who have
done the least to cause it.”

Liam Finn, Campaigns Manager at CAFOD, said:

“We’d like to thank the thousands of Catholics and people from across faith communities who’ve
sent an unequivocal message to Boris Johnson that he has to show leadership at the COP. The
fight to tackle the climate emergency won’t end in Glasgow, but the COP is a vital moment for us
to get on track to ‘keep 1.5 alive’ and prevent our sisters and brothers in vulnerable communities
facing even more catastrophic consequences for a crisis they’ve done least to cause.

“That’s why the Prime Minister has to make sure the people living in communities on the
frontlines of the crisis are put at the heart of COP26, rather than being treated as an
afterthought by decision-makers, as Pope Francis warns is too often the case.”

Potholes and Doughnuts – Caritas and Climate Change

Westminster Diocese is on the road to carbon neutrality…

By Louise Cook, Caritas Westminster Communications Officer

Source: Caritas Westminster

I recently read that wealth is like the suspension on an expensive car. When you have it, you don’t notice what a good job it is doing smoothing you over rough patches. If you don’t have it, you feel every bump and pothole.

Climate change is going to bring a lot more potholes – literally as well as metaphorically. Devastating weather events are already making areas of the world – most often in the Global South – almost uninhabitable. CAFOD and other aid organisations are right to point out that climate breakdown is a matter of justice – with the poor who have done the least to contribute to it, being the most affected by it.

Whilst the UK is expected to see more extreme weather events, such as heat waves and flooding, our climate will, at least in the short term, remain hospitable. But there is still a risk that the poorest people in our own society, and those with the least power, will be badly affected.Those already living in poor accommodation, or indeed, without any shelter at all, will be worst affected by heavy rain and heatwaves. 

A 2011 report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that

“People who live in poorly constructed homes in ‘urban heat islands’ (where built environments retain heat), work in hot conditions, suffer ill health, are older or very young, receive low incomes and/or are disconnected from social networks are more likely to be vulnerable to high temperatures.”

The Greater London Authority commissioned Bloomberg Associates to create a Climate Risk Map, where as well as physical variables (likelihood of flooding, areas of high pollution, ‘heat islands’) social variables were used – including the percentage of income-deprived families and of social housing tenants, as well as the proportion who do not have proficiency in English.  

The research states:

“Poverty is an important determinant of how well people can prepare for, respond to, and recover from climate-related events. People on low incomes are more likely to have a lower adaptive capacity to heatwaves because they lack both the resources to act and the power to make changes. Additionally, low income households are less likely to have the capacity to fully prepare for floods (through insurance and property level measures). They are also more likely to be displaced as a result of flooding.”

Climate injustice is a UK issue as well as a serious global issue. 

As the recent joint statement from Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew, and Archbishop  of Canterbury Justin Welby said:

“We serve a God of justice, who delights in creation and creates every person in God’s image, but also hears the cry of people who are poor. Accordingly, there is an innate call within us to respond with anguish when we see such devastating injustice.”

Young Christian Climate Network

Wealthy countries – and the wealthiest people in those countries, must take the lead in moving away from fossil fuels, to limit climate change, and urgently. But to meet the target of net zero carbon emissions, changes to our lifestyle and economy must be made across the whole of society.

And this is where the bumps along the way – for example, while we move away from gas boilers, petrol and diesel cars, and the consumption of large amounts of cheap meat – will be felt by the most vulnerable.

It is important that those of us who are working in social justice are aware of this, and that we raise awareness of these issues among the general public, and in conversations with those we serve – as well as in our advocacy and campaigning work. Our Road to Resilience Programme aims to help people become able to cope with changing events and crises, including climactic events.

Trying to achieve net zero – which after all, seems to be restricting people’s access to necessary energy and transport,-  and bring people out of poverty can seem like an impossible task. And if we attempt to do it whilst carrying on with business as usual, it probably is.

But there are new ways of thinking that could help policy makers in this task.

For example, the “Doughnut Economics” model, proposed by Kate Raworth in her book of the same name, subtitled “Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Eonomist”

Raworth argues that the purpose of economics needs to urgently move away from unlimited Growth and towards keeping all humans and the planet in a “safe space”. As illustrated by the doughnut shape:

Image licenced as Creative Commons by the Doughnut Economics Action Lab DEAL (doughnuteconomics.org)
Image licenced as Creative Commons by the Doughnut Economics Action Lab doughnuteconomics.org


The Safe Space of the doughnut is bounded inside by a Social Foundation, where a just distribution of wealth and power ensures that all people have the means to live fulfilled lives, free from poverty and fear.  Among these are the five priorities of Caritas Westminster: Food, Shelter, Financial Resilience, Dignified Work and Social Inclusion.

The outside of the doughnut is bounded by the Ecological Ceiling, restricting human actions which cause damage to the planet – which is put in its correct place as the source of all wealth and wellbeing.  

As we end this year’s Season of Creation and approach COP26, the international meeting on Climate Change taking place in Glasgow from 31st October, it is a good time to think about how we can respond as individuals, as parishes and schools, as a diocese, and as a country.

The Diocese of Westminster has announced plans to become carbon neutral by 2030 – something which will require the cooperation of every parish and school.

The Justice and Peace Commission is at the forefront of this work, and Caritas Westminster will be doing all we can to support them.

But we need every household, business and community space across the country to become Carbon Neutral. With the right policy changes by Government this can be done.

For it to be done justly, it must include efforts to smooth the way for the most vulnerable in society, to ensure that neither climate change, nor our efforts to prevent it, create more hardship and injustice.


Get more involved in Care of Creation and events surrounding COP26 

You can use our Love In Action resources to help your parish learn about and act on Care of Creation alongside other aspects of Catholic Social Teaching.

Join us on the Road to Resilience.

Find out more about Climate Justice globally from CAFOD.

Watch this video, in which the Cardinal explains the Diocesan Decarbonisation programme:

Ellen Teague speaks on Ecological Conversion at Hanwell Masses

Ellen Teague with Jack Edwards at the YCCN Climate Service in Westminster Cathedral 6 Aug 2021

Source: Columban Missionaries Britain

Ellen Teague of the Columban JPIC Team spoke at Masses on 2nd/3rd October 2021 in Hanwell parish, West London, just before the Feast of St. Francis on 4th October. Her talk marked the end of the Season of Creation and suggested ways to continue parish work on climate change and “ecological conversion”.

May the Lord bless us all the days of our life, says today’s psalm. And not just our lives but the lives of our children’s children. These wonderful words written nearly 3,000 years ago inspire my work on Justice, Peace, Ecology issues for the Columban missionaries. Part of this will be representing them at the international UN climate summit in Glasgow in November – the COP26 that you are seeing in the media.

Pope Francis said this week, “every human being has a right to a healthy environment”. He was referring to protecting Planet Earth, our common home, from climate change. But what has prompted my own mission to care for creation?

As a lay missionary in Northern Nigeria in the early 1980s I saw farmers from Niger moving south to work because their farms in Niger had become desertified and prone to soil erosion. Back in Britain, I worked for CAFOD and helped collect funds for the great Ethiopia famine appeal of 1984. TV pictures showed poor people  queuing for food aid amidst a dusty, oppressively hot environment. In the late 1980s I visited Sudan and will never forget witnessing a million people in a refugee camp near the city of Juba, displaced from their homes by drought, exacerbated by conflict, and sitting in a treeless, sun-baked plain completely reliant on humanitarian aid. I was awakened to what several popes have called an “ecological conversion”.

By the 1990s the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was proving that the stability of the world’s climate was being undermined by humanity dumping greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere. Our planet was heating. Why? Energy and transport reliant on fossil fuels, extractive industries tearing up land to access minerals, industrial agriculture were all responsible, alongside raised standards of living in affluent countries such as ours which have literally devoured Earth’s natural resources. Structural issues have include third world debt which forced countries in the global south to destroy their rainforests and export the timber.

The saddest aspect has been that the weakest communities in the poorest countries, who have done least to cause global warming, have been worst affected.  In 2007 I observed the Archdiocese of Manila in the Philippines hold a climate conference attended by over 2000 people – representation from every parish – because, with over half the parishes at or below sea level, they wanted to prepare for flooding caused by inundation from the rising ocean and for more severe weather. And they have had it in recent times. Fr. Sean McDonagh was the keynote speaker. The Filipino bishops said 20 years ago that, “the destruction of creation is sinful and contrary to the teachings of our faith.”

Today’s readings have a strong focus on marriage, family bonds and the rights of children but these relationships are sorely tested by the climate crisis which has torn families and communities apart. Two million people – mostly in the global south – have died as a result of a five-fold increase in weather-related disasters in our lifetimes. Climate refugees could reach 200 million by 2050. Humanity is increasingly on the move and the stability that families and communities need is in jeopardy. The time to act is now.

In 2015 Pope Francis produced his acclaimed environment encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ which is part of the teaching of the Church. It calls on Catholics and all people to heed the warnings of climate experts. “The climate is a good that must be protected” he said and asked us “to hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor”. Since then, we have seen increased wild fires, flooding and species extinction around the globe. The climate crisis cannot be ignored anymore, even by those of us not yet feeling the worst impacts.

There is much we can all do.

Tomorrow’s Feast of St. Francis reminds us to appreciate God’s beautiful creation – fresh air, clean water, nutritious food, green spaces, our animal companions. Reflect on your own way of life: avoid waste – especially food waste – conserve water and energy and protect local trees and hedgerows. Share wealth with the victims of climate change.

Hanwell is one of thousands of parishes of all Christian denominations which have celebrated the Season of Creation over the past month. And today, you can support the Climate Appeal of CAFOD. I have a table of resources at the back of the church for finding out more about engagement with COP26. Support your excellent parish Justice and Peace Group, which has raised awareness for many years. Consider becoming a Livesimply parish. And look out for refugees in Ealing and support them – for numbers will grow as people flee climate disasters. Support Westminster Diocese efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. Faith groups are divesting from fossil fuels, such as the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace in this parish.

Outside of your beautiful parish, in the local community, what about engaging with Hanwell Nature which has campaigned to protect the site of Warren Farm for its biodiversity. Did you know it has the only breeding skylark birds in Ealing? These beautiful birds are being conserved and are a blessing in our lives and the lives of our children’s children.

You can be involved nationally and internationally too. Christians are involved with climate justice because climate change affects most heavily communities least able to deal with it and on countries with low greenhouse emission rates, such as Bangladesh and Fiji. We should listen to our young people who demand a future of peace, green jobs and renewable energy. Young Christians have been walking from Cornwall to COP26 in Glasgow since June – a pilgrimage to raise awareness, pray with local churches, and eventually lobby world leaders converging on the city.  They have reached Manchester this weekend.

Another aspect is that we owe respect to the rest of the natural world. Today’s first reading from Genesis speaks of God creating the animals and birds. God sees creation as very good. ‘Laudato Si’ presents a strong critique of modern consumerism which plunders and destroys the natural world. We need soil, trees, rivers and rainfall in order to survive and the Church is speaking out about this louder than it has ever done.

Pope Francis – a global moral beacon – will be speaking in Glasgow to push for urgent action on climate change. The Columbans are supporting him there and organising a 24-hour vigil on 6th-7th November in liaison with other Catholic groups such as Justice and Peace Scotland and the Jesuits in Scotland. CAFOD is organising events in Glasgow and London that same weekend.

You are invited to sign the ‘Healthy Planet, Healthy People’ Petition.  Our Columbans UK website, Facebook and Twitter are updated daily with news of the Catholic response to justice, peace and ecology issues. Details in our latest newsletter at the back. We will help you play your part in lobbying for a successful UN climate summit in November.

Sign the Healthy Planet, Healthy People Petition

Ordinary people like you and me can make a huge difference. At the very least we can identify the habits that have harmed our environment globally and realign as individuals and community to what will keep our society and our environment healthy. This gives everybody hope.

May the Lord indeed bless us all the days of our lives as we follow the Church in promoting justice, peace and “ecological conversion”.

Columban Missionaries Britain

Church of Our Lady and St Joseph, Hanwell, West London

Sign the Healthy Planet, Healthy People Petition

Season of Creation Video Competition – One week to go…

Season of Creation Diocese of Westminster Video Competition 2021
Click here for full details and to see last year’s winners

Prizes

1st prize – £500 garden centre vouchers
2nd prize – £250 garden centre vouchers
3rd prize – £100 garden centre vouchers

Categories
Parishes, Primary School, Secondary School (Yrs 7-11) & Sixth Form (Yrs 12-13)

Deadline: 1st October 2021

To submit a video email colettejoyce@rcdow.org.uk to receive the link
Email or call Colette Joyce on 07593 434905
if you have any queries about the competition

YCCN Relay – Residency in London 3-9 August 2021

Visit https://www.yccn.uk/london for full details and to sign up and join in!

The Young Christian Climate Network Relay, walking from the G7 in Cornwall to COP26 in Glasgow for climate justice, reaches London today. There is still time to decide to join in with one or more or the events taking place in the capital during the Relay Residency in London from 4th-9th August. Follow the links for full details. We’d love to see you!

Westminster Diocese committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030

Photo: Lawrence Lew OP

Photo: Lawrence Lew OP

Source: Diocese of Westminster

The Diocese of Westminster has committed to do its utmost to become carbon neutral by 2030 in its parishes and curial buildings. It has also expressed its commitment to working with schools to encourage them to follow the same path.

As Pope Francis explains in Laudato Si’, caring for God’s created world and cooperating with the Holy Spirit in this work of creation is everyone’s responsibility, not least that of the faithful.

Taking the lead and setting an example for others is an important part of this work. To that end the diocese has been working for a number of years to transition away from reliance on carbon fuels and to implement policies that will promote a greener future.

The comprehensive plan, which currently includes 14 policies and 43 separate project streams, focuses on four pillars:

1. Clean energy sources: Since 2017, a concerted effort has been made to transition towards cleaner sources of electricity and gas supply for parishes and diocesan offices. We have worked proactively with other dioceses to establish Inter Fuel Management (IFM), a Catholic mutual which sources energy from green sources. Together with Churchmarketplace, another Catholic mutual owned by the dioceses of England and Wales, which increases our collective purchasing power, we rely on these partners to help us find solutions that will enable the transition to a carbon neutral future. Currently, 100% of the electricity supply is from green sources, as over 70% of the gas supply comes from the by-product of biological processes, with the remainder being offset. As the bio gas market expands, we expect that 100% of our gas supply will come from green sources.

2. Investment policy: For a number of years, we have been working with other churches to use our collective investment portfolios to engage with energy companies to encourage them along the path of decarbonisation. Our investment portfolio does not include shares in any major coal producers, producers of oil from oil sands or in companies that do not engage fully with disclosure projects. In the past couple of years we have taken the additional decision to divest entirely by the end of 2021 from electrical utility and fossil fuel companies that have not taken any steps to manage their businesses in line with the Paris Accord (that is, to limit temperature rises to well below 2C above pre-industrial times). We are on track to meet this objective.

3. Carbon emissions from energy usage in parishes and diocesan buildings: There are two simple, but difficult, steps that will be taking to reduce carbon emissions: a) reducing consumption, and b) eliminating carbon being burnt. Reducing consumption requires a change in each of us, a conversion, to understand that it is up to each one of us to reduce energy use. Today, more than ever, priests and people are very aware of the need to reduce consumption and are already taking steps. It is our hope to continue to encourage everyone to reduce their consumption.

Eliminating carbon emissions as a by-product of consumption is more challenging. It will require changing heating systems in all properties, including diocesan offices, residential units, presbyteries, churches and other ancillary parish buildings. Some of these will be easier to change than others. With changes in technology, it will be possible to install heating systems that use clean energy, such as ground source heating, in residential properties. Changing heating systems in our churches can be substantially more challenging because of the size and nature of these buildings, and the historical listing of some of them. However, we are committed to helping parishes along this journey, and will be focusing on helping those parishes that have higher energy consumption at present to find the right solution, such as underfloor heating which uses electricity.

4. Generating energy: With technology continuing to evolve, we hope that it will be possible for us to generate energy using the various parish and diocesan properties. Some clean energy generation, such as solar panels, can be difficult because of the nature of church roofs, particularly on listed churches. However, other sources, such as ground source energy and wind energy, may prove viable options. We already have a number of successful examples of energy generating systems in parishes and other diocesan properties. These sources of energy can help us accelerate the move away from carbon sources, and provide a viable alternative to the benefit of our communities.

As part of the culture shift, we are also embedding these pillars in our decision-making processes. This will affect every project we undertake, including building and/or refurbishing properties.

We have already made some strides along the path to a carbon neutral future. It is not an easy process, but this is a calling and a responsibility for us all. Working together with everyone, as well as anticipated technological advances and changes in government policies, will enable us to achieve our goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

Supporting the Young Christian Climate Relay

Day 1 – Molly Clarke sets outs on the first leg of the Relay

A group of young Christians (18-30s) are organising a Relay, walking from the G7 in Cornwall (13th June) to COP26 in Glasgow (1st November) for climate justice. People are joining the Relay from thousands of different churches all along the route. Walkers can be of all ages but to be one of the leaders you have to be under 30!

The Relay reaches London on 2nd August and Hertfordshire on 10th August. There will be overnight stops in the parishes of Ashford, Twickenham, Muswell Hill, Borehamwood, Hemel Hempstead and Tring.

Two events are beings hosted on behalf of the Diocese of Westminster in Central London on 6th August – a vegan lunch at Farm Street Church, Mayfair, at 1pm followed by a walk to Westminster Cathedral and an Ecumenical Climate Prayer Service at the Cathedral at 3.30pm.

Friday 6th August, 1.00-3.30pm : YCCN Climate Relay  Lunch at Farm Street and Walk to Westminster Cathedralhttps://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/163375276851

Friday 6th August 3.30-4.00pm: Ecumenical Climate Prayer Service at Westminster Cathedral Welcoming the YCCN Relayhttps://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/163372454409

To find out more about the YCCN Relay, the route, events at all the other churches, and how to sign up to join the walkers or support the Relay for a day or more visit – https://www.yccn.uk/

#RiseToTheMoment

Preparing for the Season of Creation

Source: Ellen Teague Independent Catholic News

It is July and I am watching birds pecking at the first signs of tiny fruit on a damson tree in my garden. I don’t mind – there is enough for sharing, and plenty of tasty ripe damsons will be harvested for us and our neighbours in the Autumn. It is wonderful that harvest services in our churches around October have long celebrated the fruitfulness of Earth, our common home, and the generosity of God, the Creator.

In Britain, planning has started for marking the Season of Creation in our parishes and schools. The Season of Creation is the annual Christian celebration of prayer and action, which starts 1 September, the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, and ends 4 October, the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology. Within it is CAFOD’s Harvest Fast Day on 1 October.

United around this year’s theme ‘A home for all?’, Christians are planning to participate in initiatives of prayer, sustainability, and advocacy to care for our common home. Churches are invited to hold a climate-focused service on any Sunday before COP26 this November, but most will be in September. The collective impact of local church commitments and action will be presented to the UK Government at the Climate Sunday Service in Glasgow on Sunday, 5 September 2021 to demonstrate that the Churches are calling on our government to lead the way in delivering a cleaner, greener and fairer future.

This Season of Creation will also be a critical moment for Catholics to prepare to lift up the voices of the most vulnerable and advocate on their behalf ahead of two important summits, the UN Summit on Biodiversity in China (COP 15) in October and the UN Climate Summit in November (COP 26). The National Justice and Peace Network (NJPN), CAFOD, Columbans and others have prepared for the Season of Creation with sample services and resources for the whole month of September and early October. The NJPN annual Conference 23-25 July, ‘2021: Moment of Truth – Action for Life on Earth’, is a great opportunity for hearing about exciting creation-centred initiatives this year.

Ninety-five parishes and schools have now achieved CAFOD’s livesimply award, where they have worked towards projects to live simply, sustainably and in solidarity with the poor. Yet, the focus on Creation in the Autumn attempts to bring many more Catholics on board for caring for our common home. The Season of Creation offers the opportunity for a common witness of the Churches. And the time to do it is now, as the planet continues to warm, causing terrible suffering for the poorest communities on Earth, and many other species are being pushed to extinction.

2021 is also the year when the Vatican Dicastery of Human Development is inviting us to embark on a journey through the ‘Laudato Si’ Action Platform’, to be launched on 4 October 2021. All parts of the Church are expected to embark on this journey to sustainability, in the spirit of ‘Laudato Si’, towards integral ecology. It is hoped that each area pf the Church’s mission will make public commitments to the seven ‘Laudato Si’ goals:

– Response to the Cry of the Earth

– Response to the Cry of the Poor

– Ecological economics

– Adoption of Simple Lifestyle

– Ecological Education

– Ecological Spirituality

– Community Involvement and Participatory Action

Its time to start preparing for September and the Season of Creation.

LINKS:

www.cbcew.org.uk/home/our-work/environment/season-of-creation

https://cafod.org.uk/Pray/Season-of-Creation

Short video review of the Season of Creation 2020 – www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMdGYmetPW8

Vatican Letter promoting the Season of Creation – https://drive.google.com/file/d/1inZAPqO76fiA9XirHaCc-QCUOUlwXz7P/view

Climate Sunday – www.climatesunday.org

Laudato Si’ Action Platform: https://laudatosiactionplatform.org/

Summer 2021 Columban Vocation for Justice Newsletter, ‘Prepare the Future’ – https://columbans.co.uk/how-you-can-help/subscribe/vocation-for-justice/

A Columban resource, explores the Sunday scripture readings during the Season: www.columban.org.au/catholic-mission-files/pdf/educational-resources/catholic-season-of-creation/2021-year-b/year-b-introduction-2021-web.pdf

Columban Laudato Si’ Study and Action Guide for Individuals and Groups – https://columbans.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/July2016Laudato-Si-Study-and-Action-Guide-by-JPIC-Britain.pdf

Journey to 2030 – Season of Creation Resources – https://journeyto2030.org/praying-with-the-gospels-stories-from-around-the-world-and-excerpts-from-laudato-si/

Countdown to COP26: www.indcatholicnews.com/news/42594

A Celebration of Trees

Tree Walkers, Morpeth Terrace, behind Westminster Cathedral, London, SW1

Source: Ellen Teague, Independent Catholic News

How often do we notice the trees in places familiar to us?..

Why is it important to do so?..

And what does care of trees have to do with our faith?..

On Sunday 27 June, I joined a group finding out about trees in the vicinity of Westminster Cathedral. I’ve visited the area many times since childhood, but hardly noticed them before now.

This was an event as part of London Climate Action Week. The experience, organised by Westminster Justice and Peace, was special because it seems to be the first time that valuing trees was firmly on the agenda of a diocesan body.

It seemed strange to be gathering outside the Cathedral under a banner, ‘Tree Walk from Westminster Cathedral,’ but it shouldn’t have been. Care of Creation is an element of Catholic Social Teaching, all underlined by the 2015 Encyclical, Laudato Si’.

Colette Joyce, Westminster Justice & Peace Co-ordinator, led the two-hour walk. She reflected on the importance of trees within Christian tradition and invited contemplation of some of the many beautiful trees within easy walking distance of Westminster Cathedral.

As we strolled, we were encouraged to think about the nature and purpose of trees, especially their role in maintaining a stable climate that enables all life Earth to exist and thrive. Trees bind soil, remove carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen, as well as providing a home for many species of birds and insects. Along the way we considered, too, the significance we attach to trees – from the solemn prayer before the wood of the Cross to the celebratory decoration of Christmas trees.

When we met outside Westminster Cathedral’s West Door we were immediately invited to admire the two mature London Plane trees in the piazza. Plane was widely planted as a street tree during the 18th and 19th centuries, being sturdy and suitable for city life for many reasons. It requires little root space and can survive in most soils and a wide range of temperatures. One of these two trees provided welcome shade for my son James who spent a number of hours standing with young people from dioceses around England and Wales waiting to see Pope Benedict during his visit in 2010. The Westminster youth contingent was under the Plane tree nearest the West Door, and he was very grateful.

We learnt that more than half of London’s eight million trees are Planes and they provide the important service of removing pollution from the atmosphere. The mottled olive, brown and grey bark breaks away in large flakes to reveal new cream-coloured bark underneath, a process which cleanses the tree of pollution stored in the outer bark. Each year London’s trees remove 2,241 tonnes of pollution which is a major contribution to public health.

When we moved off down Morpeth Terrace we passed rows of Plane trees and stopped at the end under a statue of St Francis of Assisi for a short reflection and prayer. Then there was Willow Place, named after Willow trees that were formerly common here. And Ginkgo in Rochester Road, a tree which survived the dinosaurs and the ice age, and, Colette told us, was the first tree to recover in Hiroshima after the city was destroyed by a nuclear bomb in August 1945. Then we walked around Vincent Square, a 13-acre green space lined with mature trees including London Plane. In Rutherford Street we admired the Silver Birches, whose white bark reflects heat and whose tolerance to pollution makes them a common sight in urban landscapes. Silver Birches also provides food and habitat to more than 300 insect species.

By gardens near the Cardinal Hume Centre we heard the tenth century, ‘The Dream of the Rood’ and heard how trees are mentioned in the Bible more than any living thing other than God and people. 56 Bible verses talk about trees.

We crossed Victoria Street and sat down in a grassy area for a short reflection on what trees mean to us. “Daily walks in the trees of Dulwich Wood got me though Covid” said one person. “This walk is a spiritual journey, about making a connection with trees,” said another.

“They’re the lungs of the world,” and “we must learn to keep the mature trees, not just plant new ones,” seemed to be common concerns about global deforestation and the HS2 project in particular in Britain. One member of the group lamented the disruption around Euston Station where she lives and has seen several public gardens destroyed and trees axed. We considered the quote from JRR Tolkien on our flier: ‘Every tree has its enemy, few have an advocate. In all my works I take the part of trees against all their enemies.’

Of course, London used to be covered in forest. This is reflected in the fact that so many parts of London are named after trees and woods. There’s the three Oaks (Burnt, Gospel and Honor), Nine Elms, Royal Oak Station, Wood Green, Forest Hill and Forest Gate.

Our final stop was St James’ Park, a green gem of 57 acres and we stopped to admire a Black Mulberry, Weeping Beech and a Caucasian Wingnut! There are around 1,250 individual trees in St James’s Park from around 35 species. The two islands in the lake, with their secluded woodlands and shrubberies, serve as nesting sites and refuges for birds. As we watched the ducks and geese waddling between the trees we thanked Colette profusely for this beautiful experience.

The walk was so successful that she has organised another one on 5 September! Several people have booked in already.

London Climate Action Week Events – 26th June – 4th July 2021

Circular Tree Walk from Westminster Cathedral – Sunday 5 September 2021, 3-5pm
Book with Eventbrite. Free.