The chant: “We come together for our common home”, ran through the liturgies at the annual conference of the National Justice and Peace Network of England and Wales (NJPN). It attracted 200 participants to Derbyshire for the first face to face meeting – albeit through masks – of Justice and Peace activists from every diocese since the pandemic started. The mantra came from a new hymn written by liturgical musician Marty Haugen especially for the conference, which took the theme,
A liturgy group, led by Colette Joyce, Justice and Peace Fieldworker in Westminster Diocese, and including pianist Christine Allen, Director of CAFOD, and Columban co-worker James Trewby on the clarinet reflected the broad range of participants seeking to mobilise for the November COP26 climate talks in Glasgow. Also, to promote ecological conversion and action in the Church and wider society, all inspired by the papal encyclical Laudato Si’.
Conference chair Christine Allen reminded that there are now 100 days to COP26 and CAFOD is working with the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) and faith leaders to lobby for global warming to be kept below 1.5 degrees. She reported that CAFOD, “amplifies voices around the world in climate vulnerable situations”. Bishop John Arnold of Salford, lead bishop on the environment for England and Wales, said Churches and faiths are making clear they want action. He has been in zooms with COP26 president Alok Sharma MP, “trying to speak loudly to politicians”. In the conference Mass he thanked NJPN “for who you are, what you stand for and what you want, and for keeping Pope Francis as an inspiration in our lives and actions.”
“It is important to acknowledge the truth of the crisis of our common home,” Fr P. Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam SDB, Coordinator of the ‘Ecology and Creation’ sector of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told the conference in a video message. He said, “the planet is crying out and the poor are crying out; we need to open our ears and hear these painful cries;” feeling there is hope and that “this could be a watershed, a moment of change.” He told NJPN that, “you can count on the support of our Dicastery as we work together under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as families, parishes, communities, and institutions, to heal and protect mother Earth.”
Keynote speaker Lorna Gold, Chair of the Board of the GCCM and author of ‘Climate Generation: Awakening to Our Children’s Future’, highlighted the “vibrant network of networks sustaining and nurturing ecological conversion right across the world” and turning Laudato Si’ “into a lived reality.” A good friend and collaborator of the Columbans in Ireland, she applauded the role young people have played in stimulating climate action. “Young people have done more in two years than the rest of us have done over three decades” she said. Lorna felt the pandemic is teaching us that we are all connected to each other and to nature and what it means to act together to face a common threat. She felt Pope Francis’ vision of ecological conversion refers to “community conversion” and asked: “What if that process of community ecological conversion was to extend to the entire world of faith communities that still encompass 80% of the world’s population?”
Andy Atkins, head of Arocha UK, underlined how far Churches have come with programmes such as Live Simply, Eco Church, Eco Congregation, Climate Sunday and Fossil Fuel Divestment with Operation Noah. In fact, more than 5000 churches across the Christian denominations are registered with green schemes which “was unimaginable 30 years ago” but “we need to speed up.” He deplored the UK government’s loss of credibility to deal with the crises facing us. “At a time when the government says it is leading the world it has cut its aid budget and has opened the door to fossil fuel development,” he lamented; “we should be saying No More Fossil Fuel Exploitation in This Country!” Lorna felt the 20 October announcement of fossil fuel divestment should include the 18 Catholic dioceses on England and Wales that have not yet announced divestment.
Speaker Mark Rotherham, of the Northern Dioceses Environmental Group, felt it essential we transform our current economic system so that it promotes both social equality and environmental protection. “A good life-sustaining economy is about slowly down and recognising planetary boundaries” he said. He described the arms industry as “a huge shadow over our nation” and felt that we need to withdraw legitimacy from this draw on global resources and energy.
There was so much more, from Fr Eamonn Mulcahy CSSp developing a critique of anthropocentrism and the technocratic paradigm, taken from Laudato Si’, to NJPN Chair Paul Southgate teaching the conference a Navajo hymn of praise! Young university and school students told the conference they would like “less of fossil fuel companies pretending to care and schools accepting money from them”. They called for Catholics “to challenge the increasingly hostile policy towards refugees”, many of whom are victims of our actions in arms trading and raising global temperatures. One highlighted “the detachment of our education system from real life” and the attitude that “the more money we have the more successful we are.”
An action planning session at the end included dioceses forming Laudato Si’ Action Platform groups, organising Climate Sunday Masses, promoting the Live Simply programme in parishes and schools, and urging divestment from fossil fuels. Columbans and Salesians are among those arranging a 24-hour prayer vigil on 5 November – during COP26 – that parishes can join, with intentions fed in from around the world. Columbans are planning to connect with the Young Christian Climate Network (YCCN) pilgrimage to Glasgow and the Camino to COP26, setting off in September, particularly in London and Birmingham.
More than 20 stalls – including a Columban stall – were available in the ‘Just Fair’ plus a room where participants could measure their carbon footprints. Around 15 workshops were available on such topics as: ‘Sustainable Development Goals,’ ‘Conflict and Environment,’ and a ‘Nature Explorer Walk’ with a botanist. Justice and Peace Scotland gave a briefing around ‘Attendance at COP26 – real or virtual’.
Since 2005, NJPN has regularly taken an environmental theme for the national conference and its Environment Working Group, formed that year, helped plan the 2021 conference. Columbans have been keen supporters of these initiatives, and Frs Sean McDonagh and Peter Hughes (Peru and REPAM) have spoken at former conferences.