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Nearly a million Catholics call for climate change action ahead of Paris summit

Nuns join climate justice activists at a plaza in Manila, Philippines on Sunday, a day ahead of the start of the U.N. climate change conference, known as the COP21 summit (CNS photo/Simone Orendain)

Hundreds of thousands of people in at least 150 countries around the world demanded action on climate change on the eve of a UN conference that aimed to find agreement on greenhouse gas emissions.

Heads of state travelled to Paris for the November 30-December 11 Conference of Parties, or COP21, in the Paris suburb of Le Bourget. Catholic organisations campaigning to protect the world and its people from the impact of climate change said the terror attacks in Paris had not dissuaded them from attending a major UN summit there.

Interfaith leaders gathered in Saint-Denis, France, to hand over a petition with more than 1.8 million signatures – 800,000 collected by Catholic organisations – calling for action on climate change.

At the event, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, president of the Pan-Amazonian Church Network, referred to Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home, and to an October appeal by Catholic bishops worldwide that called “for a fair, binding and truly transformational climate agreement in Paris”.

“We ask for drastic cuts of carbon emissions to keep the global temperature rise below the dangerous threshold of 1.5°C,” the cardinal said. “As the bishops’ appeal states, we need to ‘put an end to the fossil fuel era’ and ‘set a goal for complete decarbonisation by 2050.’

Pairs of shoes placed on the Place de la Republique in Paris (Photo: CNS)
Pairs of shoes placed on the Place de la Republique in Paris (Photo: CNS)

“And we ask wealthier countries to aid the world’s poorest to cope with climate change impacts, by providing robust climate finance,” he added.

Originally, hundreds of thousands were expected to march in Paris, but the march was cancelled after the terrorist attacks. Instead, Parisians and others from around the world donated shoes and set them up at Place de la Republique. The display was disrupted as Paris police used tear gas to break up an unauthorised demonstration.

Fr Michael Czerny, who works at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, confirmed that Pope Francis had donated a signed pair of shoes to the display. Cardinal Hummes and Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, also signed and donated shoes.

From Seoul to Ottawa and New York to Sao Paulo, people marched to demand climate change.

In Manila, Philippines, dozens of religious added their voices to the cry of mostly Catholic activists during a climate march on a humid, overcast morning.

Seminarians join climate change activists at a square in Manila, Philippines (Photo: CNS)
Seminarians join climate change activists at a square in Manila, Philippines (Photo: CNS)

In the square across the street from Our Lady of Remedies Church, Sacred Heart Missionaries seminarian Reynon Ajero held up signs that said “Resist the plunder of our environment” and a reference to the Pope’s encyclical.

Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila opened an outdoor Mass with a prayer of hope during the lighting of the first candle on an Advent wreath.

“Hope for the enlightenment of all peoples, that we are just a strand in the web of life, that what we do to the environment, we do to ourselves,” said Bishop Pabillo.

In Melbourne, Australia, more than 40,000 people marched in the city’s central business district to call for action on climate change. A statement on the website of the Archdiocese of Melbourne said Catholics were at the forefront of the march. Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, former president of Caritas Internationalis, told the crowd: “We were given a garden. We may not deliver back a desert.”