The Columbans in Britain’s Justice and Peace Education Worker, Dr. James Trewby, writes about some of the initiatives he has been involved in which demonstrate how “partnership is our way of being on mission”. This article features in the July/August 2022 issue of the Far East magazine.

The Columban team set off for COP26 in Glasgow from Birmingham.

One great privilege of my work as the ‘Justice and Peace Education Worker’ for the Columbans in Britain is having direct (if virtual) contact with missionaries around the world. During the various COVID-induced lockdowns, a new initiative began, building on these online communications: the Columban International Youth Encounter. Facilitated by Columban missionaries (lay and ordained), this brings together young adults connected to the Columbans from many countries around the world for prayer and discussion about faith and social justice issues.

At a session in the autumn of 2021, climate change and care for creation were particularly ‘hot topics’. It was moving to hear from young adults in Taiwan, Pakistan, Peru … one by one talk about the devastating impacts of the climate crisis on their countries and call for change. The sharing by a young woman in Myanmar stayed with me. Filmed on her mobile phone in a camp for the internally displaced where she lives, it made clear the links between human and environmental suffering; poverty, migration, conflict and exploitation of natural resources. As Pope Francis says in Laudato Si’, “we are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental” (LS139).

Given these experiences, the holding of the 26th annual summit of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in the UK challenged me – what contribution could we make? COVID made pre-existing imbalances of power and voice worse. Talking with friends and colleagues, the seed of an idea was planted: might we take a group of young adults to Glasgow and in some way, together, create a platform to share voices and stories from around the world?

This was the motivation behind the 24-hour vigil we went on to coordinate. In a very Columban way it was rooted in collaboration; for us “partnership is our way of being on mission”. 24 hours of prayer, climate stories and advocacy, broadcast live from Glasgow, made possible by working together with friends from so many organisations, including the Jesuits, CAFOD, Justice and Peace Scotland, the Assumption Sisters, Don Bosco Green Alliance, the Laudato Si’ Movement and Columban missionaries from around the world.

But by far the most important voices were those living on the frontline of the climate crisis. We had the privilege of sharing stories from, for example, elderly people in a Filipino slum community, students in Uganda and children in Peru. Particularly poignant for me, linking back to the sharing from the IDP camp, was a submission from Columban Fr. Kurt Zion Pala from Myanmar. The 14-minute video shows the members of Catholic Student Action in Myitkyina living in the midst of both the pandemic and a military occupation, all wearing face masks, setting off into the countryside and then taking part in a prayer service for creation, for COP26, and for peace. The young adults, wearing traditional clothing, shared personal reflections on care for creation and the impact of climate change. They read from scripture, sang hymns, prayed and committed to ongoing action for our common home.

What a privilege to have helped bring their voices to Glasgow. Our vigil was planned so that the last part was our group processed out of the church to join a protest march as part of the ‘Global Day of Action for Climate Justice’, bringing with us symbolically all that we had heard and broadcast over the 24 hours.

Of course the story doesn’t end there. The commitments made by governments at Glasgow were disappointing, and there is so much more that needs to be done. But through our involvement in the vigil and the march, and in the people we met in Glasgow, we saw a glimpse of something beautiful, the climate justice 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.

So the work continues. Since our time in Glasgow, we have been sharing the story of what we did and why we did it during visits to schools. We show students some of the submissions from around the world, pray together and then support them in building relationships with their MPs around these issues. Faith calls us to action.


24-hour prayer vigil

We pray for our world, abused and exploited. That as a global community we may come together and stand for our common home with all areas of society, especially indigenous and minority communities who experience it first-hand.
Creating God, Help us change our ways.
During our '24 Hours for the Climate' vigil, we have been united in prayer seeking to bring global voices to these climate talks. We pray for those voices on the margins, so valuable and yet so often silenced, that they may be placed at the centre of our response.
Creating God, Help us change our ways.
We pray that we may end our dependence on gas and oil and transition to a green economy.
Creating God, Help us change our ways.
In Laudato Si', Pope Francis declares that young people demand change; we only need to look to the young people marching on our streets. May they continue to inspire, create and be the change we want to see in the world.
Creating God, help us change our ways.

Members of our young adult team

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