In late June, Tess Corkish (our Youth Engagement Officer), represented Catholic Earthcare at the Emerging Leaders Multifaith Climate Convergence and the One Earth, One Human Family Climate March in Rome. Below, she reflects on this once-in-a lifetime experience.
As I’ve tried to wrap my head around the incredible experience that I was blessed to attend the GreenFaith and OurVoices Emerging Leaders Multifaith Climate Convergence, I’ve been speaking to my new friends as we’ve all been asked to write pieces documenting our experience. We’ve been asking each other how to describe the emotional rollercoaster that was meeting people who do the same incredible work all around the globe. We all debated whether to talk about the tears of grief that we shared as Betty, a Hindu woman from Fiji begged us to help save her island, or the tears of elation we shed as we took those first steps into St Peter’s Square, or the waves of joy that flooded our hearts as the Pope thanked us for being there, a group of young people of diverse faiths, standing together as one on the issue of climate change.
We decided that we could share these things, these feelings as best as we could, but there are definitely transformational experiences that I shared with those around me that it would feel like betrayal to share. This is an unusual feeling for me, I am usually a person who talks to everyone and is not afraid to share my opinions and feelings with anyone, and this is one of the reasons why I find writing this piece so hard.
The convergence started at 6pm on a hot Saturday evening at the Salesianum, a Catholic conference centre replete with pictures of Popes and crucifixes. We came together in a huge circle, all 100 of us, and heard from the convergence organisers as well as the resident peacock who decided to not only hop up on the stump in the middle of the common area, but also honked loudly, interrupting our “get to know you” conversations, much to the amusement of all, English and Spanish speakers alike. There were about eight delegates from Latin America who did not speak any English and who spent most of their time with Neddy, the OurVoices staff member originally from Venezuela who is responsible for the engagement of Latin America. It was a great opportunity for us all to bring out the small parts of Spanish, Italian and French (in my case) that we knew – as well as some hand gestures – to bridge the language gap!
We, young people of faith from all corners of the globe told stories of our homes, our work and our passion for the care of creation. It was so empowering to hear stories similar to mine from Kenya, England, the United States, Canada, Peru, the Philippines, Brazil, Guatemala, Italy, Colombia, Poland, Ghana, Mexico, and that’s just the Catholics! It was especially exciting to meet Allen, the founder and director of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA) and a number of his volunteers, considering I’m trying to do the same thing in Australia, as well as Tomas from the Global Catholic Climate Movement who I have been emailing for about six months and hadn’t had the opportunity to meet until then (turns out he’s really tall).
The second day was almost undoubtedly the most incredible part of the convergence. We started the day early, carrying our leaves with us on the bus to the Piazza outside the French Embassy where we listened to an amazing band and prepared to march to St Peter’s Square. Unfortunately I didn’t end up being part of the march, having volunteered to hand out the leaves in the square beforehand, but I had a number of fantastic conversations with people from all over the world who were milling around waiting for the Pope. I am incapable of describing the feelings that swelled up within me as I turned around to see a mass of people, banners and soaring birds come towards me chanting “Olé, olé, olé, olé, Laudato Si”. I have added my own photos here, but they do not do it justice. I have attended my share of marches but they have all been down George St in Sydney or Garema Place in Canberra and not with an incredibly diverse group of people thanking the Pope for his leadership. It was pride for Pope Francis, pride for a church that has a chequered history, pride for being part of a movement that brings the poor and the vulnerable to the forefront of the conversation.
Pope Francis began his address, all of which was in Italian so I understood very little, but when he seemed to finish, our crowd came together in song once again, but we quieted down as soon as the Pope started speaking again, particularly singling us out as a movement who cares about the future of creation and praising us as movement which is inclusive and diverse. A shout-out from the Pope (albeit one shared with 150 other amazing young people) wasn’t on my bucket list before, but it definitely is now (and is successfully ticked off!). I then spent the afternoon participating in the People’s Pilgrimage with Yeb Saño, who recently brought the pilgrimage to Australia, and wandering around Rome taking in the sights and the history of the city. I spent a good portion of this time talking to Emily, a Quaker from Washington DC, Austin, a Jew from Portland Betty (the aforementioned Hindu woman from Fiji), Josh, a Catholic from Canada, and Pinaki, a Hindu man from India (who told me that my accent reminded him of a cricket commentator).
The next three days were a fantastic experience, listening to so many talented young people talk about the work that they’re doing as well us teaching us about their faiths, about science and telling us all about the problems that they face in their communities. We got into groups by faith and groups by geographical region and talked about the opportunities and problems that these aspects present and each put together a leadership project proposal. I was able to get a lot of help from Anna, a Columban lay woman from the UK who has been doing mission work in Catholic schools in England and who gave me a whole lot of tips for making Catholicism relevant for teenagers and children, while I gave her tips on talking to them about the environmental aspect. We had a couple of very productive sessions on bringing these two aspects together in a way which inspires young people to take action. I also found a lot of common ground with David, a Jewish community leader from the United States who facilitates a Jewish identity program for teenagers as we are both engaged in shifting the identity of young religious people to include integral ecology.
It was also a great social experience. There were so many great people from around the world with whom I shared so much common ground. I had chats about racial micro aggressions with SriVani from the Hindu American Foundation, discussions about the concept of “Mother Earth” from a feminist perspective with Melly from Geneva and Betty from Fiji, ranted about Australia’s awful refugee policies to people from around the globe and talked indigenous incarceration with Daniel, an African-American man from Atlanta, Georgia. I also had the amazing opportunity to discuss George Pell with Fr Michael Czerny from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (he told me that the Pope wouldn’t be coming to Australia to chat the Encyclical with Tony Abbott but that His Holiness supports the work that we are doing to bring the message to our politicians).
This experience has been life changing, especially as a young person who has often felt rather isolated while bringing the worlds of faith and climate change together and I now have a community (albeit mostly online) which supports my work and understands the frustration that I experience when people of faith struggle to link care for creation with an authentic life of faith. It is also a group of young people who understand the pull of technology and the demands that life puts on us to engage with the world in an era of rampant consumption. It is a group of people who I hope to visit and who I will always cherish as friends. I want to thank Catholic Earthcare Australia, Greenfaith and OurVoices for the incredible opportunity to be part of this community and I promise I will be a prophet of the word of the encyclical to the youth of Australia.
Tess Corkish is now available to address youth groups and facilitate Laudato si’ youth workshops in Catholic schools and parishes.