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Sabetha parishioner speaks with Pope Francis on migration and climate change
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Sabetha parishioner speaks with Pope Francis on migration and climate change

Sabetha parishioner talks with Pope Francis about migration, climate change


Henry Glynn, a member from Sacred Heart Parish in Sabetha (top right), participates in a Zoom meeting called Building Bridges North – South. The meeting was attended by university students from North, Central, and South America. They discussed climate change and migration. COURTESY PHOTO

Jill Ragar Esfeld
[email protected]

SABETHA — Henry Glynn, a member of Sacred Heart Parish here, and a junior at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, is passionate about his Catholic faith.

“I love the Catholic Church, and I’m Catholic before I am anything else,” he said. “It is the first adjective I use to describe myself.” 

So when Glynn got an email from Creighton professors with a subject line reading “Meeting with Pope Francis?” he was all in.

The invitation was to attend Building Bridges North-South. It was a synodal event about migration between Pope Francis (in Rome) and university students from North and Central America (in Chicago).

Passion for creation

Glynn’s college experience had already broadened his understanding of Catholic social teaching, particularly after a theology class introduced him to the pope’s encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.”

“I’ve always been an outdoorsy kid,” he said. “I’m from a small town, a farming community and I’m an Eagle Scout.

“So, when we read ‘Laudato Si’’ I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I love my Catholic faith and I also love the outdoors.’ I had no idea there was this teaching that says it goes together, and it’s a faith issue.”

Glynn was aware of this and joined a climate divestment group led by students at Creighton.

Glynn was able to experience nonviolent direct action as a response to climate change after the university renounced all fossil fuels.

“I saw the power that it could have and how important an issue it is,” he said.

Henry Glynn lived in Tanzania for two months last year, where he was part of a subsistence farming family and ran a small village school. Above, he is pictured with some of his schoolchildren. “I spent June and July living with a Tanzanian family and working at their preschool and on their organic farm,” said Glynn. “I traveled there for 50 days through a global volunteer program called WorkAway.” PHOTO COURTESY OF HENRY GLYNN

Last summer, Glynn’s faith deepened when he spent two months in Tanzania living with a subsistence farming family that ran a small village school.

“I spent 50 days with very little phone service and lots of silence,” he said. “It reinforced the fact that I am not in control of my life. I’m living according to the call of the Holy Spirit.

“That experience jolted me back to the reality that listening is so much more important than talking.”

It also made him more aware of the extent to which climate change has impacted the poorest.

“I recognized how much we humans rely on the earth when living in an environment like that,” he said. “This nature around us is God, there’s no doubt.

“That’s what Scripture says, that’s what the Church Fathers say; and care for creation is paramount to our life.

“It’s a pro-life issue.”

Take action

This semester, Glynn accepted an internship at the nation’s leading Catholic climate nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C.

 “I really loved my Catholic social teaching class,” he said. “And I thought if I could use both my political science and my theology degree that would be cool.

“So, I ended up at Catholic Climate Covenant.”

Glynn met Emily Burke at Creighton, and she is now the social media manager at the organisation. Emily Burke is a Creighton graduate.

Burke is a doctoral student in the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Creighton professors recommended him to participate in Building Bridges North-South.

“I’ve gotten to know [Henry] a lot better as we shared the experience of encountering Pope Francis together,” said Burke. “We’ve had a lot of late nights and long conversations about the importance of young Catholics, Catholic climate action and the strategy of nonviolent direct action.”

Henry Glynn participated in a congressional meeting with faith leaders and members of House of Representatives Select Committees on the Climate Crisis. The meeting took place on March 17. Glynn was able attend the meeting as a representative of Catholic Climate Covenant, which participated in the meeting as an affiliate organization of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. Glynn was invited to the meeting by Dan Misleh (founder of Covenant). PHOTO COURTESY HENRY GLYNN

Glynn, Burke and a group of 20 young adults from the central U.S.A. and Canada were there.

They were asked to attend three synodal sessions over the course three weeks in order to discover what their group wanted to present to the pope.

“We were told early on,” said Glynn, “[that]The pope is well aware of the migration problems.

“He kind of wants to hear college students’ ideas for solutions.”

Glynn & Burke quickly found the root cause of the problem and discovered it in advocacy for climate action.

“You can lay out a pretty clear path from the horrors of migration back to how we’re destroying the earth, which places added burdens on poor people and compromises all of our common good,” said Glynn.

While there were many good ideas discussed in their group, there was overwhelming support to present the pope with climate changes.

Glynn was elected to represent the group in the virtual forum with Pope Francis, which took place Feb. 24, 2012. Burke was elected to replace Glynn.

Meet with Pope Francis

“We worked really hard together on both of our remarks,” said Burke. “Henry was tasked with setting up the problem of climate change inaction in the Catholic Church and connecting the dots between climate change and migration/refugee issues.

“I was tasked with presenting our proposed solution to this problem — namely, the establishment of training and education centers for nonviolent direct action.”

Glynn’s parents, David and Kerstin Glynn, and his sister Ellen have been inspired by his passion for Catholic action to combat the effects of climate change.

His mother, a busy doctor, was able take a moment and watch her son speak with the pope.

 “I was able to put my headphones in and play it on my phone,” she said. “I was not nervous for him; I was excited for him.

“My favorite moment was as Henry began to speak. Pope Francis put his pen down and very attentively looked and listened.”

Henry was also aware of this moment.

“When I started talking,” he said, “I saw him out of the corner of my eye.”

Burke wasn’t surprised at the pope’s attentiveness.

“[Henry’s] delivery was confident,” she said. “He communicated very clearly the urgency of the issue and his personal connection to it.

“I think he did a fantastic job, and by his reaction, Pope Francis seemed to agree.”

Glynn is optimistic about the future, even though there is still much to do.

“I see among my generation this issue [of climate change] is no longer a question of whether you believe it’s happening,” he said. “It’s what are we going to do about it? And I’ve really found hope in my prayer.

“The church says we have this teaching, it’s a faith issue. We’re going to care for the earth.”

“We can organize,” Glynn concluded. “And we can make this happen on a big-time level, out of love for each other.”


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