As we enter Lent it is a good time to be especially attentive and vigilant to what is happening in our local communities, our country and our world. Christ calls us to live lives of virtue and goodness so that we are prepared for the second coming. We should reflect on the world around us to see where we have been sleepwalking and failed to realise the impact of our actions. Christ calls us to examine our hearts and to see where sloth has replaced our desire to love and serve our neighbours both locally and globally.
One particular area in which we must “wake up” and seek conversion is in our attitudes towards our common home. Climate change, as well as other ecological problems, are urgent matters to which we need to make a practical response. In this country, we have experienced only relatively minor indications of climate change. Elsewhere in our world severe and long-term droughts, floods, rising sea-levels and record-breaking temperatures are clear evidence of the damage that our actions and our way of life are inflicting on the world. These have affected millions of people, most often in the poorest countries of the world.
Pope Francis is leading the way in calling us to be aware of what we have done to our world and the certainty that, without immediate and sustained action, we will inflict irreparable damage on our planet, adversely affecting the lives of future generations. The Holy Father tells us that every one of us must make changes to our lives and begin to repair the damage before matters become irreversible. It is time for us all to “wake up” and, if we have not already done so, engage in the practical actions necessary to make the essential difference.
This is a matter rooted in our Faith. Creation is God’s gift to us and we are called to be stewards of creation. But for far too long we have exploited our world and its resources, often in ignorance as to the consequences, having no regard for the impact of our actions. But now we are coming to understand what we have done. We have time to correct the damage, if we act quickly.
In the Diocese of which I am bishop, a new initiative has been started called “The Journey to 2030”. This aims to mobilise the Catholic Church to act on our ecological crisis. It was created by lay Catholic youth volunteers, called the Ecological Conversion Group and is supported by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has pinpointed 2030 as the date by which we must curb our greenhouse gas emissions, in order to prevent irreversible damage to our planet. It is also the target date for the implementation of the UN’s sustainable development goals. The Journey to 2030 aims to aid the Church in a conversion towards community building and caring for our planet and global family. It asks all people and organisations to come together and use their varied skills and influence to make a difference.
Catholic social thought has made a huge contribution to how even those who have no religious beliefs think about issues connected to human dignity and the promotion of the common good. The tradition recognises that we will not all come to the same view, especially in relation to action that should be taken in the political sphere. But that cannot reduce the sense of urgency with which we need to address ecological issues. The crisis calls for prayer, personal conversion and action, study and reflection, and social action. A good start for reflection would be Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si.