Columbans were among thousands of people who took part in a mass lobby of parliament on 26 June to urge the UK government to act more seriously on climate change.
‘The Time is Now’ lobby attracted around 12,000 people and was organised by the Climate Coalition and Greener UK. The Climate Coalition includes CAFOD, Christian Aid and around 130 other social groups and environmental organisations. Justice and Peace activists from across England and Wales participated, including Westminster, Portsmouth, Southwark, Hallam and Leeds Diocese.
The whole day event started with a walk of witness down Whitehall, with Columban missionaries, Jesuit Mission, Salesians, Arocha, Operation Noah, Green Christians and Pax Christi among the Christian groups present. Other faiths and environmental activists walked side by side. Former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was one of the walkers. Williams said, “we are living in an irrational civilisation, with the irrationality of someone sawing off the branch they are sitting on”.
Campaigners met with more than 220 MPs who were taken by rickshaw to speak to their constituents lined up on both sides of the River Thames. At 2pm those present rang alarm clocks, mobile phone alarms and sirens, and cheered loudly to symbolise “the time is now”. In Church House Bishop John Arnold of Salford, the bishop with responsibility for the environment, presented winners of the Columban Young Journalists Competition on Climate Change with their certificates. Fr Peter Hughes, the Columban Director in Britain praised the commitment of the young people to build a more sustainable future.
To round off the day, Bishop Arnold celebrated Mass – Fr Peter Hughes SSC concelebrated – with around 600 Catholic participants. Bishop Arnold called for the government to be held to its promise to work towards net zero carbon emissions, and for industry “to clean up its act”. He paid tribute to the young people who have alerted society to the dangers of environmental crises, including the children attending the 208 Salford diocesan schools who regularly raise their concerns when he visits. Around 24 Catholic schools were represented at the lobby, such as Bishop Ullathorne School in Coventry, which has built links with James Trewby, the Columban Education Worker. “It is wonderful to see young people taking a lead” the Bishop said. But he called on everybody of all ages to review their attitudes to such things as waste and recycling and travel.
José Batista Gonçalves Afonso, a CAFOD partner and land rights lawyer working for the Pastoral Land Commission in the Brazilian Amazon, spoke of the importance of links with people internationally. The loss of rainforest and the recent assassinations of 54 people in Pará state means that global solidarity is vital. He had high hopes for October’s Synod on Amazonia and urged the congregation to stay engaged with issues affecting Amazonia and the entire planet. “For more than two decades CAFOD has been supporting our work: this link from Europe to Brazil is vitally important to us” he said, adding that, “each and every one of us has a part to play in this struggle against climate change”.
After the Mass many groups headed to their coaches for the lengthy journeys home, excited to have participated. Lancaster Diocesan representatives, for example, left for London at 4am on Wednesday morning! However, others were still rushing off for meetings with their MPs in Portcullis House into the early evening. Christine Allen, Director of CAFOD, thanked “all the wonderful people in CAFOD tee-shirts”, but noted that this was a day when people of all faiths and no faith had stood together for the common good.
Research from the Climate Coalition and Greener UK has found that 69 per cent of Britons “want to see urgent political action to combat climate change and protect the natural environment”. They also found that 71 per cent want their MPs to support plans to tackle issues such as rising temperatures and species extinction. Britain is the favorite to host a major conference to drive forward the 2015 Paris Agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions in late 2020 and negotiators are looking to the government to set an example for other countries to follow. Theresa May, in one of her last acts as prime minister, is signing into law a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This was welcomed by lobbyists, although many voiced the hope – including the Columbans – that the goal would be more like 2030.