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Action on climate change, motivated by faith, emerges from COP26’s mixed bag – Catholic Philly
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Action on climate change, motivated by faith, emerges from COP26’s mixed bag – Catholic Philly

Action on climate change, motivated by faith, emerges from COP26’s mixed bag – Catholic Philly


Michelle Dugan

When Pope Francis published his encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home” in May 2015, I couldn’t have been more excited and hopeful. As a lay associate of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, (S.H.C.J.), I had been preparing for this document’s release with the sisters in our EcoSpirituality Group. Rosemont was home to those of us who were closer to home.

Calling ourselves “The Evergreens,” we shared signs of hope – anything from the sighting of a bright red cardinal to a news article on legislation to protect the environment – and we prayed together for the flourishing of the Earth community.

Fast forward to fall of 2021: Pope Francis is recognized the world over as a prime mover in the environmental community; “Laudato Si’” has been studied, shared, referenced and admired widely; and the U.N. Climate Conference (COP26) will take place in Glasgow (Scotland) during the first two week of November.

On Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis, leaders of the world’s religions have joined scientists at the Vatican to sign a joint appeal, “Faith and Science: Towards COP26,” and present it to Alok Sharma, the president of COP26. As the conference opens, Cardinal Petro Paraolin, the Vatican Secretary-of-State and leader of the interfaith delegation, reads a letter by Pope Francis, urging participants to take action on climate change.

Glasgow is the scene of negotiations, protests and dreams for a better world. The Vatican launches its new website the day after the conference ends. Laudato Si’ Action Platform to transform the global church’s response to the climate crisis. “At this kairos moment,” the Vatican declares, “we are responding to the call for healing in our relationships with God, our neighbors, and the Earth itself.”

Now that the conference has concluded with the signing of the Glasgow Climate Pact, should we feel hopeful that the message of “Laudato Si’” is finally going to lead to action? The post-COP26 messages in the media, both religiously and secularly, have been mixed.

Yes, the goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius has been reaffirmed. But if current trends continue, that won’t be possible. Yes, fossil fuels were mentioned for the first time. But India insisted that coal be “phased down,” not “phased out.” Yes, the wealthy nations have pledged to help developing countries most impacted by climate change. They never fulfilled their last $100 billion pledge in Paris. So why should we believe them now.

Will the promises made in Glasgow be kept? What does all this have to do about our Catholic faith

Although the Glasgow promises may not be binding, they represent a positive shift in awareness about the gravity of climate change and the need to act immediately.

Additionally, there are several important steps worth celebrating.

The Scottish bishops’ conference committed to divesting from fossil fuels. John Kerry and Xie Zhanghua, climate envoys, finally met to discuss cooperation between the U.S.A. and China. More than 100 countries joined America and the E.U. In the Global Methane Pledge to Reduce Emissions. Other 120 countries, including Brazil and the U.S., pledged to end deforestation by imposing strong economic sanctions and providing funding for Indigenous peoples.

COP27 is scheduled to take place next year, sooner than originally planned, to push toward the necessary reduction in greenhouse gas emissions so that “net zero” can be reached.

“Laudato Si’” gives us what we need to move forward – a spirituality, a context rooted in Scripture, the science, the social justice component – it’s all there. Pope Francis terms it “integral ecology.” Yet how many of us are hearing about it in our parishes?

EcoPhilly ( was a new initiative that emerged in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia last April. EcoPhilly’s goal is to follow the call of the Vatican and the example of the Scottish bishops in pursuing systemic change within our own archdiocese.

I found out about it through my connections to two parishes, Our Mother of Consolation and Old St Joseph’s, that are working with EcoPhilly to develop their creation care teams. EcoPhilly’s mission is to reach every parish with the message of care for our common home.

Yes, even in these difficult times, there are many signs that there is hope. Please consider attending the EcoPhilly workshop on Saturday, January 22, 2022 from 9 a.m. to 12 noon at the St. Augustine Friary (214 Ashwood Road Villanova).

“From Faith to Action: The Nuts and Bolts of Nurturing a Creation Care Team in Your Parish” is free and open to all; reply to [email protected].

“It is good for humanity and the world at large when we believers better recognize the ecological commitments which stem from our convictions” (“Laudato Si’,” no. 64).


Michelle Dugan is a retired teacher and mother, grandmother, and mother in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. She is also a lay associate of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, and a member of the Catholic Relief Services Philadelphia Advocacy Chapter.


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