It started out as a platform to reach out to young people at a time when it was a challenge to do youth ministry because of the pandemic. Now on its 5th encounter, around 33 youth representing 11 countries participated in the gathering. The theme for this encounter was “Laudato Si’- Climate Emergency.” Following the See-Judge-Act methodology representatives from the different countries presented the different impacts of climate change in their own experiences. From extreme weather changes like frequent and destructive storms, loss of water resources, to diseases – climate change impacts everyone no matter where you live – on a Pacific island, mountain villages, towns or in huge cities.
A report by the German Watch group entitled ‘The Global Climate Risk Index 2021‘ showed that for the period 2000–2019 or in the last two decades the 10 most affected countries by climate change due to exceptional catastrophes and extreme events on an ongoing basis like heatwaves included Myanmar, the Philippines and Pakistan. Common to many of the reports mentioned by the youth, climate change impacts included the following food insecurity, scarcity of water, severe weather conditions including heatwaves, bushfires and the spread of viral diseases including malaria and the Covid 19 pandemic.
Climate change has led to internal displacement of peoples forced to flee their homes due to natural disasters, droughts and other weather events. These people are sometimes called “climate refugees.” These are just impacts to the human population but climate change also impacts the ecosystem which can lead to biodiversity loss. Since everything is connected biodiversity loss also affects the human population. Biodiversity provides food and other services to the human population.
But it was also highlighted how some countries like Korea are one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Actions are being taken in these countries to reduce their carbon footprints. The impacts are more intense in countries who do not contribute a lot to carbon emissions that cause global climate changes. These countries like Myanmar, the Philippines, Pakistan and Fiji are already vulnerable because of many other factors. The impacts of climate change further exacerbate poverty and the political situation of these countries. The Philippine report calls for youth engagement in environmental protection because of its direct impact to youth behaviours and attitudes but also influence their parents, families and communities.
The group was then divided into smaller groups where they discussed the next stage of the process. Participants were asked the following questions:
(1) How they do you feel about climate change?
(2) What does your faith teach you about caring for creation?
(3) What actions do you see in your country responding to the cry of the Earth?
(4) What do you do to care for creation?
The Columban International Youth Encounter was conceptualized to allow young people to meet and encounter each other. In Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti he mentioned that “Each of us can learn something from others. No one is useless and no one is expendable.” (No. 215). We are encouraged to reach out to people to build bridges and not walls. The Climate emergency demands that we also work together as Pope Francis in his letter pointed out that “We need to develop the awareness that nowadays we are either all saved together or no one is saved. Poverty, decadence and suffering in one part of the earth are a silent breeding ground for problems that will end up affecting the entire planet.” (No. 137). We are all interconnected no matter where we live on this planet.
“Each of us can learn something from others. No one is useless and no one is expendable.”