‘Partnership is our way of being on mission’: a story of a COP26 prayer vigil

James Trewby explains how an idea to make a contribution to COP26 and bring voices to the negotiations that would otherwise not be heard, developed into a '24 Hours for the Climate' live prayer vigil broadcasted to thousands. James wishes to offer a special thanks to all who were involved!

A great privilege of my work as the ‘Justice and Peace Education Worker’ for the Columbans in Britain is having direct (if virtual) contact with Columbans around the world. Facilitating conversations between young people and educators here, and people living in areas most impacted by the climate crisis in, for example, the Philippines, offers a powerful call to action; inviting schools and youth services into mission for the common good.

During the various lockdowns the Columban International Youth Encounter grew, bringing together young adults connected to the Columbans from many countries around the world for prayer and discussion about social justice issues. Climate change was a ‘hot topic’. It was moving to hear sharing from young adults in Taiwan, Pakistan, Peru, … one by one, people witnessed to the devastating impacts of the climate crisis on their countries and called for change.

Given these experiences, COP26 being held in the UK immediately challenged me – what contribution could we make? COVID made pre-existing imbalances of power and voice worse. Talking with friends and colleagues, the seeds of an idea were planted: might we take a group of young adults to Glasgow and in some way, together, bring voices and stories from around the world?

24 Hour Prayer Vigil - 24 hours for the Climate

Early co-conspirators included Nicolete (Social & Environmental Justice Lead from the London Jesuit Centre), Wesley and Cynthia (from the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach in the USA) and Danny (of Justice and Peace Scotland). Through conversations, zoom calls and emails, a dream began to take shape – a group of young adults facilitating 24 hours of prayer and climate stories from around the world, broadcast from a Jesuit parish in Glasgow, collecting climate stories to send to COP26 negotiators, finishing with the group processing out of the church to join a march as part of the “Global Day of Action for Climate Justice”.

Sounds so much easier when I write it, now that it’s all over! What felt like a good idea grew and grew as the complications of COVID, technology and big dreams raised their heads. But, for the rest of this article, journey with us and see how for every challenge, partnership, collaboration and divine providence we found a solution, even into the live ‘24 Hours for the Climate’ broadcast itself…

Columban representatives who participated in '24 Hours for the Climate'.

We need a team to make this happen – God provides generously in the form of Columban friends and family, Aisling (Pax Christi), Jack (Diocese of Southwark), Tra-my (Assumption Sisters), Columban Faith in Action Volunteers past and present (Tobi, Juliette, Jack, Catherine and Julia), Flo, Angel, Anna.

We have no idea how to do this technologically – Juan Carlos from the Columban’s Hispanic ministry team is an expert in this area and provides training. Wesley and Cynthia make websites, google forms and bring the advocacy aspect to fruition, and Julia and Juliette actually get to grips with the software.

We’re losing faith in our ability to do this – Jane of the Laudato Si’ Movement reminds us that prayer is the crucial part, and that we must do that.

When we need prayers and stories from around the world – they trickle in then pour, thanks to so many, including the Don Bosco Green Alliance, Pax Christi, Eco Jesuit, Faithful Companions of Jesus, Anna and the Glasgow Catholic Workers, schools, communities, and so many more.

A cold church with no wifi – so into the wonderful warm Ignatian Spirituality Centre, thanks to Lynn (Jesuit Missions), John and Fr. David (ISC).

A live evening prayer from the church – no problem thanks to Julia, Anna, Kate and others from CAFOD.

Our guitarist won’t be in Glasgow in time – step in James (St Aloysius School), Jo (Independent Catholic News) and Ellen (Columban JPIC);

The video we’re trying to play isn’t working – not to worry, get Bishop Nolan on screen reading a pastoral letter from the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland.

We don’t know how to live broadcast a mass or record from the church – problem solved by Danny and the good people of Sancta Familia and Being Catholic.

Columban representatives participate on a march around Glasgow.

And will anyone join us in prayer? Will they submit climate stories? Yes, around 2000 views live, including groups such as schools and Religious communities around the world, and 60 climate stories submitted, collated and sent to negotiators – with the ‘views’ on our YouTube channel continuing to increase.

And finally, the disappointing results of COP26 are lifted with hope through the beauty of the climate movement, the ‘other’ COP. People of all ages listening and learning from one another, hearing stories from the margins, sharing joy, sadness, anger, growing in commitment and conviction, then taking action and making change. Our prayer vigil is, and was, a part of this, with so many individuals and organisations (including many not mentioned) working together in partnership to put faith into action!