Nearly three years after the publication of the encyclical Laudato Si' - On Care For Our Common Home - some of Pope Francis' prophetic words are continuing to ring in our ears. In Laudato Si', the Pope asked: "What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to the children who are now growing up?"
On the 5th & 6th July, the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development organised an International conference held in the Paul VI Hall, Vatican City, to reflect on what has happened to the environment during the last three years and how to plan for the future.
Marc Besford from YCW England and Wales represented the International Team of the YCW at this event.
During the two days, participants were reminded of the urgency of dealing with climate change, including the need to adopt carbon-neutral lifestyles and seriously invest in non-carbon energy technologies, in order to keep the global average increase in temperature below the 2 degrees celsius which was agreed at COP 21 in Paris in 2015.
The conference followed the See-Judge-Act methodology, which is central to the YCW. It attempted to look at the challenges in the area of justice and the environment in a holistic way, so that we could hear "both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor" (LS, 49).
Some of the speakers focused on the crisis in food production, especially for the poor. Others called attention to the plight of migrants and refugees and the lack of understanding and empathy among those living in rich countries.
The conference also had 4 parallel groups focusing on areas for Climate Change, Serving Our Common Home, Churches and Religions and Indigenous and Young People.
The Youth & Indigenous group came up with five areas for discussion at both the Synod for Youth in October 2018 and the Synod on the Amazon 2019: Formation for both young people and adults; participation of young people; integrity; inter-generational solidarity and urgency.
Young people didn’t just want to sit in a room and talk about issues they want to tackle them head on.
Pope Francis received participants at the conference in an audience in the Sala Clementina on Friday.
In his remarks to the group, Pope Francis said: “Your presence here is a sign of your commitment to take concrete steps to save the planet and the life it sustains, inspired by the Encyclical’s assumption that ‘everything is connected’. That principle lies at the heart of an integral ecology.”
Pope Francis noted the increasingly accurate assessments of the scientific community concerning the environment. “There is a real danger that we will leave future generations only rubble, deserts, and refuse” but he expressed his hope that concern for the state of our common home would be translated into concrete actions to preserve the environment. In particular, he called on governments to honour their commitments to the 2015 Paris Agreement “in order to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis.”
The COP24 Summit, he said, “could prove a milestone on the path set out” by the Agreement. He also mentioned the upcoming Global Climate Action Summit, taking place in San Francisco in September, while urging the support of “citizens’ pressure groups” to provide support. In addition, he said, financial institutions also “have an important role to play, as part both of the problem and its solution.”
“All of these actions,” Pope Francis said, “presuppose a transformation on a deeper level, namely a change of hearts and minds.” He reiterated Pope St John Paul’s calls for an “ecological conversion,” and emphasised the role of religions, and especially Christianity, in working to that end. Finally, the Pope stressed the importance of making space for young people and indigenous peoples in efforts “to foster an integral ecology.”
Young people are at the centre of the upcoming Synod of Bishops, set for October of this year.
In his conclusion, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude for the efforts of participants “in the service of care for creation and a better future for our children and grandchildren.” Pope Francis encouraged them, saying: “Please continue to work for ‘the radical change which present circumstances require.’ For ‘injustice is not invincible.’”
After which all the participants had the opportunity to meet the Pope and shake his hand.