Emerging faith leaders calling for action on climate change

Jessica Morethorpe, First Third specialist for the Metro West Region of the Uniting Church in WA, recently travelled to Rome to join hundreds of other faith leaders in thanking Pope Francis for  his encyclical, Laudato Si’. She shares her experience with Revive.

We came from all over the world, from many faiths and many countries, but with one cause and one message: we need to act on climate change. We came to thank Pope Francis for taking leadership in this area by releasing Laudato Si’ (his teaching letter on care for our common home – the Earth), and to ask world leaders to prepare to take action at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s supreme decision-making body, COP climate negotiations to be held in Paris in December. We brought our stories of the effects of climate change we are already experiencing in our countries, and our hopes and dreams for a better future for ourselves and our children than currently seems possible.

We had come to Rome for the Emerging Leaders Multi-Faith Climate Convergence (ELMCC), a meeting of about 100 delegates chosen from over 400 applications worldwide to discuss the climate  crisis and what we can do together to create change. To launch the convergence, on 28 June we joined about 5000 people to march from Piazza Farnese to St Peter’s Square, with a range of signs  and artistic symbols telling a story of what needs to happen. We also handed out large leaves with quotes from major faith leaders about climate change on them. They were so popular the whole  square turned green for the Pope’s weekly message.

I had the honour of being one of four Australians to attend. It was both strange and nice to represent the Uniting Church at such an event. Strange, because most people had never heard of us, but  nice, as I got to talk about our ecumenism, our passion for social justice and the environment, and the high levels of involvement by our congregations in my Five Leaf Eco-Awards ecumenical  environmental change program for churches.

The hardest moment of the convergence for me was when Betty from the Marshall Islands got up to speak. Her voice was thick with emotion as she passed on a desperate plea to the world from  her friends and family to please, please do something before it is too late. Her islands, only 4m above sea level, are already beginning to wash away. Betty and other Pacific Islanders refer to us in  Australia as their ‘big brothers’. We certainly aren’t acting like family in our current policies.

That said, we are all really excited that the Pope’s encyclical might finally change the tide in the direction of real movement on climate change; especially with the support of figures like the ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew 1 of Constantinople and the Dalai Lama. It is a time for coming together and supporting each other, and at the march the Pope thanked us for coming in his Sunday blessing. We also received a personal message from the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon encouraging us to continue the great work we are doing, and the march made  international news including The Guardian, the New York Times, The Washington Post and the ABC in Australia. We all hope and pray this will make the world pay attention.

My favourite session of the convergence was where about 15 people were given the chance to share in more depth what they are doing. It was deeply inspiring and exciting. There is such rich  material in our traditions about caring for the environment, and these young people were using it to inspire action in a host of creative ways. The inspiration I felt hearing their stories was similar  to when I attended the Uniting Church’s National Young Adult Leaders Conference in 2013; a glimmer of hope for the world. There are some truly amazing young leaders arising in my generation, despite all the criticisms we hear.

One thing we all acknowledged was that these weren’t so much emerging leaders as emerged ones. Yet as young leaders we do face greater challenges trying to be heard, especially those of us who  are women, but we plough on anyway. Because protecting the planet and protecting the lives of those we love are not things we can ever give up on. Each of our traditions speak of hope and new  life, of changing ourselves and changing the world, and this gives us strength to continue. Better yet, we now have a network of friends to support and encourage us on the journey.


If you would like to hear more about Jessica’s trip, there will be a dinner and discussion event held soon. Email jessica.morthorpe@wa.uca.org.au to receive updates on this.

For more information on the Five Leaf Eco-Awards visit http://fiveleafecoawards.org.

To read the Pope’s encyclical visit http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papafrancesco_20150524_enciclicalaudato-si.html

Image: Faith leaders in the ‘One Earth, one human family’ march.

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