In early May, our Director Jacqui Rémond represented Catholic Earthcare Australia in Rome at a meeting of the Global Catholic Climate Movement (of which Catholic Earthcare is a founding member), to prepare for the release of the ecological encyclical “Praised Be You: On the care of the common home”. Jacqui had the immense privilege of meeting Pope Francis, who endorsed our Catholic Climate Petition which calls on political leaders to commit to ambitious climate action. Below, Jacqui reflects on the excitement and joy of the experience*.
I had arrived in Rome, and felt elated to stand in the hotel foyer to greet a group of people who I had been on weekly Skype calls with for almost five months. Half a dozen Catholics had started a conversation in December 2014 to harness the good will of the global Catholic Community to address climate change. Together with some religious and mostly lay people, we launched the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) in January 2015 when Pope Francis received our statement on climate change.
Tomas, GCCM Chair and an Argentinian friend, had approached the Pope’s Secretary, and six of us were invited to meet Pope Francis.
Outside the Vatican this day, with our tickets in hand, we were permitted to walk to a back laneway where we stood by an archway and were greeted by Pontifical Ceremonies, Monsignor Guillermo Karcher. He asked us not to place cameras in front of Pope Francis and explained that professional photographers would be taking plenty of photos.
Our names were then called to walk under an archway which led to a side door into the Vatican. As I walked through the corridors I felt awestruck and took in a deep breath to savour the moment.
We brought with us the recently crafted GCCM Petition calling for bold climate action and our intention was to ask Pope Francis to sign it.
The sun was rising over St Peter’s Square and when Pope Francis arrived a cheer resounded through the crowd. We were sitting to the left of Pope Francis as he gave his address on marriage, and more than 40 couples were present in their wedding attire. I was reminded of my dear husband and our children back home in Sydney probably getting ready for bed.
I felt deeply grateful to my husband for being a rock for me over the last seven years. Nurturing ecological conversion in Australia would not have been possible without his support.
As Pope Francis moved towards us we could see that Brother Sun had brought not just beads of sweat but lines of sweat were flowing down his face. His face was radiating joy and his hand shake was firm, gentle and lasted for what felt like a long time.
He listened with warmth as our Argentinian friend Tomas introduced us and the GCCM, naming our countries of origin: Africa, Australia, Argentina and the Philippines. Tomas then explained the petition. Pope Francis’ response was that protocol dictated that he could not sign it himself, but he would ask Cardinal Karcher to sign the petition on his behalf to emphasise his endorsement and encourage Catholics around the world to sign the petition.
He then made a joke that we were competing with his encyclical! His energy was joyful with a good dose of humour and delight.
As we thanked Pope Francis and walked away I felt a sense of immense gratitude for him and the way in which he is lifting up Creation.
This meeting with Pope Francis has strengthened my resolve to keep going with the urgent work of stimulating and sustaining ecological conversion in Australia and with our new found friends to grow the GCCM across the globe.
Together we need to keep praying for Pope Francis as he prepares to deliver the Churches first encyclical on environment. It is going to re-frame Catholic Social Teaching forever. The message of the encyclical will no doubt include climate change as one of the many symptoms that Science has brought to our attention.
The underlying problem that I think he will point us to is the rupturing of our relationship with Creation. We are being called to repair our relationship with Creation in every way – with new eyes and thinking, with heartfelt wonder and love and with practical actions.
We are also being asked to find our true vocation and live a lifestyle on Earth that no longer diminishes life but rather helps all life to flourish. This spirit will restore our participation to be peaceful and loving so that the communities on Earth can thrive and flourish into the future.
Pope Francis has endorsed the Catholic Climate Petition – will you? Sign today.
* A version of this reflection was first published in CathNews on May 22, 2015.