The Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change for COP 26 – called the Joint Appeal – was signed by over 40 religious leaders of the World’s Religions in the Vatican on October 4, 2021. At this event, Pope Francis gave a short talk wherein he identified our common humanity living on our common home. Pope Francis took up three themes in his address: openness to interdependence and sharing, the dynamism of love and the call to respect.
In saying “everything is connected”, Pope Francis touches base with the foundations of many religions and belief systems that emphasise the oneness of reality, and the interconnectedness of all that is. The Pope also reaches out to other forms of life that express both the infinite life force and the reality of divinity, all having been created by the Source of the All.
Recognising that the world is interconnected means not only realising the harmful effects of our actions, but also identifying behaviours and solutions to be adopted, in an attitude of openness to interdependence and sharing. We cannot act alone, for each of us is fundamentally responsible to care for others and for the environment. This commitment should lead to an urgently needed change of direction, nurtured also by our respective religious beliefs and spirituality. For Christians, openness to interdependence springs from the very mystery of the Triune God: “The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures. In this way, they make their own that Trinitarian dynamism which God imprinted in them when they were created”.
Recognising that are all interconnected brings us to the law of karma: whatever we do affects another, and whatever we do comes back to us. Pope Francis says, “We cannot act alone, for each of us is fundamentally responsible to care for others and for the environment.” In this wise, we recognise the Divine in all that exists. We are interdependent – with each other – and with nature – and have co-responsibility for this world we live in.
Today’s meeting, which brings together many cultures and spiritualities in a spirit of fraternity, can only strengthen our realisation that we are members of one human family. Each of us has his or her religious beliefs and spiritual traditions, but no cultural, political or social borders or barriers prevent us from standing together. To illumine and direct this openness, let us commit ourselves to a future shaped by interdependence and co-responsibility.
2. This commitment must constantly be driven by the dynamism of love, for “in the depths of every heart, love creates bonds and expands existence, for it draws people out of themselves and towards others”. Love’s driving force, however, is not set in motion once for all; it needs to be renewed daily. That is one of the great contributions that our religious and spiritual traditions can make to help bring about this much needed change of course.
Love is the mirror of an intense spiritual life: a love that extends to all, transcending cultural, political and social boundaries; a love that is inclusive, concerned especially for the poor, who so often teach us how to overcome the barriers of selfishness and to break down the walls of our ego.
Our lives are our message; expansion is our life. Pope Francis confirms this saying, “love creates bonds and expands existence“. We cannot say “I am love” unless we touch the source of love every day. Pope Francis tells, “Love is the mirror of an intense spiritual life“. Our lives, and all our actions “should mirror the creative love of God“. This love is to be seen in our relationship with the environment, what we purchase, how we dispose of that, how we lessen our carbon footprint, how we shy away from the “throwaway culture“. If we are loving God, then we are also called to love and to act with a moral anchor toward all that exists in our environment.
This represents a challenge born of our need to counter the “throwaway culture” so prevalent in our society and resting on what our Joint Appeal calls the “seeds of conflicts: greed, indifference, ignorance, fear, injustice, insecurity and violence”. Those seeds of conflict cause the serious wounds we are inflicting on the environment, such as climate change, desertification, pollution and loss of biodiversity. These in turn are leading to the breaking of “that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying”.
The challenge to work for a culture of care for our common home, but also for ourselves, is one that inspires hope, for surely humanity has never possessed as many means for achieving this goal as it possesses today. We can face this challenge on various levels. I would like to emphasise two of them in particular: example and action, and education. Inspired by our religious beliefs and spiritual traditions, we can make important contributions in both these areas. Many opportunities present themselves, as the Joint Appeal clearly notes in pointing to the various educational and training programmes that we can develop to promote care for our common home.
In emphasising example and action, the Pope reminds us of the example of good character and human integrity. Poor character is when we say one thing and do something else: this is not setting good example and action. Education about caring for our common home may also elicit transcendental human values which ennoble human character and integrity. Inherent within every human are values of Truth, Love, Peace, Right Conduct and Non-violence. These are found in all the religions of humanity.
3. That care is also a call to respect: respect for creation, respect for our neighbour, respect for ourselves and for the Creator, but also mutual respect between faith and science, in order to enter into a mutual “dialogue for the sake of protecting nature, defending the poor, and building networks of respect and fraternity”.
Respect, in this sense, is more than an abstract and passive recognition of others. It is an empathetic and active experience of desiring to know others and to enter into dialogue with them, in order to walk together on a common journey. For, as the Appeal goes on to state, “what we can achieve depends not only on opportunities and resources, but also on hope, courage and good will”.
Openness to interdependence and sharing, the dynamism of love and a call to respect. These are, I believe, three interpretative keys that can shed light on our efforts to care for our common home. COP26 in Glasgow represents an urgent summons to provide effective responses to the unprecedented ecological crisis and the crisis of values that we are presently experiencing, and in this way to offer concrete hope to future generations. We want to accompany it with our commitment and our spiritual closeness.
When Pope Francis says, “Openness to interdependence and sharing, the dynamism of love and a call to respect” he is referencing interfaith and inter-religious activity: the call to harmony, cooperation and understanding. These go hand in hand with our common humanity living respectfully – expressing that Love which is a mirror of the divine life – and caring for our common home.