Turkson invites world’s bishops to support Global Climate March

This story appears in the COP 21 Paris feature series. View the full series.

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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A top Vatican official has invited bishops near and far to lend prayerful support to massive global demonstrations ahead of international climate negotiations and to encourage Catholics in their dioceses to partake.

In a letter dated Monday, Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, encouraged all bishops “to offer your support in prayer, word and action” to the Global Climate March -- a series of more than 2,000 rallies worldwide, including 50 major marches, on Sunday ahead of the United Nations climate summit in Paris. NCR obtained a copy of the letter, which was apparently sent to all dioceses in the world.

Turkson suggested bishops “to offer the celebration of the Eucharist” on Nov. 29, the day of the march, “for a responsive and successful international conference and summit.” He also asked that they encourage Catholics and others “to exercise their ‘ecological citizenship’” by joining the march in one of the 1,000-plus events planned.

“This would surely help to reinforce the humble and peaceable spirit of Laudato si’, and it would spiritually express communion with the universal Church,” Turkson wrote.

The Ghanaian cardinal opened the letter saying he wrote “In the name of the Holy Father as well as my own,” and thanked God for the “many graces” that have followed the June publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.” He added that the purpose of his letter “is to encourage and sustain the follow-up underway” to the encyclical within the church and the wider world through December.

That timeline aligns with the U.N. climate conference, known as COP21, which begins Nov. 30 and runs through Dec. 11. Held this year in Paris, the conference will bring world leaders to the French capital for the purpose of ratifying and signing a binding global agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions toward the goal of holding average temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

Turkson is expected to attend COP21 as part of the official Holy See delegation. Other members of the delegation include Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, and Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the U.N.

“The 50,000 representatives at COP21 -- 25 000 official delegates and another 25,000 participants with various interests -- need to hear the message of Laudato si’ and the voice of God’s people. To echo these in the halls of negotiation and decision is the role of citizens everywhere calling for a responsible, successful COP21,” Turkson wrote in the letter.

The cardinal likened the demonstration to comments the pope made in July during his visit to Bolivia. While speaking at the World Meeting of Popular Movements, Francis said:

“The future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change. I am with you. Each of us, let repeat from the heart: no family without lodging, no rural worker without land, no laborer without rights, no people without sovereignty, no individual without dignity, no child without childhood, no young person without a future, no elderly person without a venerable old age. Keep up your struggle and, please, take great care of Mother Earth. Believe me; I am sincere when I say from the heart that I pray for you and with you.”

“The Holy Father recognized that simply to rely on well-known or high-profile leaders for action is often not enough,” Turkson said, adding that those participating in the Global Climate March “will truly be exercising global ecological citizenship.”

The march’s seminal moment was to come along the boulevards of Paris, a day before the official opening of COP21. But the terror attacks of Nov. 13 led to the demonstration’s cancellation in “The City of Light,” along with a follow-up rally set for Dec. 12, a day after the climate summit’s scheduled end. Organizers had estimated as many as hundreds of thousands of people marching in Paris, and perhaps surpassing the crowd at the People’s Climate March in New York in September 2014.

“This is a difficult decision to make that will probably disappoint some of those who had planned to take part, but in the current context, safety requirements prevail,” French officials overseeing COP21 said in a Nov. 19 statement.

Organizers with the Global Climate March have explored alternative means of demonstrating in Paris, such as art installations across the city or for people to decorate and leave shoes in the Place de la République. In the meantime, they have stressed that marches elsewhere have risen in importance.

“While this makes it difficult to go forward with our original plans, we will still find a way for people in Paris to make the call for climate justice heard, and we encourage everyone around the world to join a Global Climate March and raise their voices louder than ever. There’s never been a greater need,” said Nicholas Haeringer, an organizer for the march with 350.org, in a statement.

Other major marches planned across the globe include:

  • in Europe, Berlin; London; Madrid; Rome; Amsterdam; Barcelona, Spain; Copenhagen, Denmark; Oslo, Norway; Edinburgh, Scotland; Stockholm; Budapest, Hungary; Kiev, Ukraine;
  • in North America, Mexico City; Los Angeles; New York; Austin, Texas; Washington, D.C.; Vancouver; Ottawa, Canada; Vancouver, Canada;
  • in South America, Sao Paul; Curitiba, Brazil; Bogota, Colombia;
  • in Asia, Tokyo; Kyoto, Japan; Seoul, South Korea; Dhaka, Bangladesh; New Delhi; Manila, Philippines
  • in Oceania, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra in Australia; Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand;
  • in Africa, Johannesburg; Beirut; Kampala, Uganda.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]        

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