COP26: Some Notes and a Prayer

 

On the eve of the 2019 Climate Action Summit in New York, churches called for immediate action to address the climate emergency. Photo: ACT/Joanna Patouris (permission requested)

On October 4th, a group of leading figures from a number of religious traditions sent an urgent message to world leaders who would be gathering for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow during October 31 – November 12, 2021. The Executive Summary of a Joint Appeal began with the following:

Today, after months of dialogue between faith leaders and scientists, we come together united to raise awareness of the unprecedented challenges that threaten our beautiful common home. Our faiths and spiritualities teach a duty to care for the human family and for the environment in which it lives. We are deeply interdependent with each other and with the natural world. We are not limitless masters of our planet and its resources. . . . We must address these challenges using the knowledge of science and the wisdom of religion. We must think long-term for the sake of the whole of humanity. Now is the time to take transformative action as a common response. [1]

Religious believers are joining others from around the world protesting expansion of fossil fuel industries and demanding commitments and actions from government and business leaders to limit fossil fuel emissions. Theologians and clergy have been writing, teaching, and preaching about the goodness of creation and our obligation to be responsible stewards of the natural world. For example, Catholic theologian Elizabeth Johnson CSJ wrote:

Since the reign of God is especially attentive to the needy and the outcast, Jesus showed a partisanship for suffering people that we can today interpret as extending to encompass the earth and its myriads of distressed species and ecosystems. His ministry reveals a wideness in God’s mercy that includes all creation. [See earlier blog post]

Perhaps the most widely read religious statement on the need for protecting the earth and its atmosphere from further degradation has been Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ (Praise Be to You). Subtitled On Care for Our Common Home, the title is taken from Saint Francis’s great hymn praising God for his creation, Canticle of the Sun. In the encyclical, the Pope exhorts his readers to follow the example of the Saint’s love for the created world: “I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically.” (Laudato Si’, Paragraph 10)

In recent decades, Christian communities have used liturgies and prayers to not only praise God for the wonders of nature but also lament human actions which have caused deep harm to the environment. Examples include this Prayer of Lament from the Anglican Communion Network and the Anglican Alliance, and the Missa Gaia often heard in churches on a Sunday in October in observance of the Feast of Saint Francis (the patron saint of ecology).

In 2015 international negotiations resulted in the Paris Climate Agreement, but the climate crisis has only deepend during the intervening years. Annual increases in the numbers of fires, floods, and hurricanes and the rising of sea levels have confirmed what the scientific community had been claiming for decades – that human activity was degrading the earth and its atmospheric envelope and setting off irreversible changes in the environment.  Many groups both secular and religious have engaged in climate strikes, vigils, and protests around the world. This is a time when many of us feel a need to pray with words of hope that we can change the way we live on our planet home. The following prayer is taken from a prayer booklet developed for children and young adults in New Zealand.

Walk Lightly

Each leaf, each petal,
each grain, each person,
sings your praises,
Creator God.
Each creature on the earth,
all the mountains and great seas show your glory,
Spirit of Love.

And yet the hand of greed has patented
and plundered your splendour,
has taken and not shared your gift,
has lived as owner of the earth, not guest.

And so the ice is cracked
the rivers dry,
the valleys flooded
and the snowcaps melt.

God our Father,
show us how to step gently,
how to live simply,
how to walk lightly
with respect and love
for all that you have made.

Amen.

Adapted from a prayer written by Linda Jones/CAFOD. [2]


[1] “World Religious Leaders and Scientists Make pre-COP26 Appeal: External Statement / 05 Oct, 2021,” United Nations Climate Change, accessed November 6, 2021, https://unfccc.int/news/world-religious-leaders-and-scientists-make-pre-cop26-appeal.

[2] “Climate Change Prayer Booklet,” Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, accessed November 6, 2021, https://caritas.org.nz/system/files/Climate%20Change%20Prayer%20Booklet.pdf

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