By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News
[Ottawa – CCN] – A plea from Pope Francis to better protect the environment, respect indigenous communities around the globe and listen to the concerns of young people is resonating with Catholics and non-Catholics alike in Canada, where religious and social justice groups are promising to make environmental justice initiatives the focus of a month-long celebration of creation.
“This year should lead to long-term action plans to practise integral ecology in our families, parishes and dioceses, religious orders, our schools and universities, our healthcare, business and agricultural institutions, and many others as well,” Pope Francis said in a message delivered on Sept. 1 as part of World Day of Prayer for Creation and the start of the Season of Creation that continues through to the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi on Oct. 4.
“We rejoice too that faith communities are coming together to create a more just, peaceful and sustainable world. We are particularly happy that the Season of Creation is becoming a truly ecumenical initiative. Let us continue to grow in the awareness that we all live in a common home as members of a single family,” Pope Francis’ message said.
The call for action on the environment and the threat to the planet of global climate change, which has been a key aspect of Pope Francis’ papacy, also comes at a time of a global pandemic that has killed some 900,000 people across the globe as of Sept. 4, 2020.
“In some ways, the current pandemic has led us to rediscover simpler and sustainable lifestyles. The crisis, in a sense, has given us a chance to develop new ways of living,” Pope Francis said.
“The pandemic has brought us to a crossroads. We must use this decisive moment to end our superfluous and destructive goals and activities, and to cultivate values, connections and activities that are life-giving. We must examine our habits of energy usage, consumption, transportation, and diet. We must eliminate the superfluous and destructive aspects of our economies, and nurture life-giving ways to trade, produce, and transport goods.”
That message by Pope Francis is being taken to heart by groups such as Citizens For Public Justice (CPJ), an Ottawa-based religious social justice organization, which in an August 2020 brief to the House of Commons standing committee on finance pre-budget consultations said “the COVID-19 pandemic has sharpened our collective focus.”
“Priorities have become clearer and there is a call for change. The climate emergency – the focus of the 2019 pre-budget consultation – has not gone away. Poverty and inequality have been aggravated. At the same time, long-standing systemic racism and social exclusion have also been brought to light,” according to the CPJ. “These are not new issues, but curiously, the crisis spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic may have created a fresh opportunity to take a deeper look at how we respond.”
KAIROS, a Canadian faith-based organization that includes the Canadian Catholic Church’s Development and Peace organization, launched its second annual “Climate Action Month” at the beginning of September that calls for “radically new ways of living with creation.”
According to a statement released by KAIROS, climate action month is held “to galvanize awareness and action after a series of alarming and urgent UN special reports on the climate crisis and impacts on vulnerable communities, including women and Indigenous peoples. The pandemic has redefined our world with calls for a just recovery that prioritizes the welfare of essential workers and at-risk people in the transition to a carbon net zero economy by 2050.”
“Recovery from the pandemic offers an immense opportunity to build a more resilient and equitable society that upholds human rights and the integrity of our planet,” said Beth Lorimer, ecological justice coordinator for KAIROS Canada.
“Ambitious action is needed from our leaders to get us there and we all have a voice in making that message heard,” she said.
Joe Gunn of the Oblat Centre, which is based in Ottawa’s Saint Paul Catholic university, said the campaign for climate justice has been a key focal point of the Jesuit Oblat Centre this year and will continue to be going forward.
“This is very much a priority,” he said.