Young Catholics Criticize US Church Leaders’ Climate Silence Directly to Pope | earth beat
Pope Francis listens to Catholic university students during a virtual dialogue Feb. 24, hosted by Loyola University Chicago in conjunction with Catholic universities and colleges in North, Central, and South America, as well as the Caribbean. Emily Burke is top right; Henry Glynn is bottom left. (EarthBeat/YouTube screenshot)
Henry Glynn was blunt in addressing the pope directly.
“Our experience is that priests never discuss climate change,” the Creighton University junior said during a virtual conversation that 130 university students and young Catholics had with Pope Francis on Thursday as part of a listening session of the synod on synodality organized by Loyola University of Chicago.
The issue of climate change, Glynn said, is “the issue that deeply worries our generation.”
As his synodal group, made up of students from the central United States and Canada, spoke ahead of their meeting with Francis, he said he discerned “a shared frustration” at the lack of leadership they see from the part of the American church on the issue of accelerating temperatures that threatens the entire planet.
“Our generation values authenticity and deplores hypocrisy,” Glynn told Francis. “The failure of American Catholic leaders to share and implement the Church‘s own climate teachings disillusions young people,” adding that a similar failure among political leaders “sows doubt and cynicism among us.” .
The timing was one of the most blunt criticisms leveled during the nearly two-hour discussion. And Glynn, an intern in Washington, D.C., with the Catholic Climate Covenant whose day began with a Google search for what to wear to a papal audience, was determined not to miss his chance to air the frustrations of his generation directly to the pope.
“I think I would have been more nervous to say these things if I had never read Laudato Si’, or if I didn’t know anything about Pope Francis,” he told EarthBeat as he was still processing the experience hours after the Zoom session. “I think I would have thought, ‘Like really? I’m gonna tell him his boobies aren’t doing their job, like on his nose? I don’t know if that’s a good idea. “
Part of what gave him confidence is that his synodal cohort came with receipts.
A study co-authored by fellow panelist, Emily Burke, found that less than 1% of U.S. bishops’ columns in diocesan newspapers have mentioned climate change in the six-plus years since Francis published his encyclical.”Laudato Si’on the care of our common home.”
Burke, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who took classes around meeting Francis, said it was “surreal” to hear the research she conducted at Creighton quoted to the pope. She watched intently as Francis sat in his chair and took notes as Glynn summed up their church leaders‘ silence and inaction on climate and environmental issues.
“And I’m sure he’s well aware of that, but lay people are aware of that too, and young people are aware of that too, I think it’s important that he hears that,” he said. she declared.
The idea to bring up the subject of climate change with Francis arose from the bi-weekly meetings that their synodal group held during the month they had to prepare. Tasked with looking at the root causes of migration, the group – which included a number of students who were migrants or had migrant family members – finally talked about the climate. The United Nations estimates that more than 20 million people are displaced each year by extreme weather events, which are intensifying and becoming more frequent as global temperatures rise. A 2017 study from Cornell University predicted that there could be up to 1.4 billion climate refugees by 2060.
Or, from the perspective of many students in the group, before they reached the age of 60.
Pope Francis speaks during a virtual dialogue with Catholic university students across the Americas on February 24. (NCR/YouTube screenshot)
“It’s a universally anxiety-provoking thing to talk about and worry about for young people, especially students,” said Burke, who also works with the Catholic Climate Covenant and was involved with the Catholic Climate Covenant’s fossil fuel divestment campaign. Creighton.
With a shared sense of concern, they decided to raise the issue with Francis, including their perception that their leaders, inside and outside the church, were not taking climate change seriously.
“It was just seen as a moment that we didn’t really want to spoil, which made a lot of students want to be upfront and want to be really real and get attention, kind of highlight some of the issues. who we saw,” Burke told EarthBeat.
In his response, Francis did not directly address the group’s criticism of the American hierarchy, but he encouraged them to choose sincerity and “refuse any form of hypocrisy”.
“Don’t fall into the trap of hypocrisy, never in your life. Because hypocrisy poisons everything,” Francis said, while “sincerity really helps to live in harmony with ecology, with the rest of the world. world”.
Francis also addressed Burke’s proposal that the church establish centers to train young people and others in the spirituality and ethics necessary for ecological conversion, but also in means of nonviolent direct action as a last resort. to get seemingly unwavering people to take climate change seriously. .
“We need the prophecy of non-violence,” and it is young people who must carry that vision forward, Francis said.
“Violence always destroys nature,” he added, and referred to his recent criticism that plastic pollution “kills everything.”
The Creighton students were also struck by a Spanish proverb that the pope repeatedly quoted: God always forgives, we sometimes forgive, but nature never forgives. Glynn said it captured the essence of what they hoped to convey, “essentially, fixing the climate means we need to fix our relationships with each other and with God.”
As for what they expect from their church leaders, they said talking about climate change was an important first step. For Glynn, it wasn’t until he came to Creighton that he read Laudato Si’ or saw his Catholic faith tied to social issues like climate change – ties that became clearer last summer when he lived with a family in Tanzania who lost a crop of tomatoes to a frost unusual for the season.
From there, they would like to see the church tap into its teachings and operations — through its buildings, schools, and other institutions — in a way that it becomes a leader in carbon neutrality and environmental sustainability. For example, through the Laudato Si’ action platform.
“If we’re a church writing these materials and saying we need to pay attention to these social issues…I’d like to see a church fully embrace this gospel message for themselves,” Glynn said.
Both students emerged from their meeting with the pope in the Zoom room feeling empowered by the experience, grateful for the opportunity, and equally important, heard by their church.
Says Burke, “I don’t really know if anyone knows what will happen to it at this point, but hopefully this is kind of a beginning and not an end to raising the voices of young Catholics.”
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