Following the publication of Laudato Sí in 2015, in Ireland there was a strong sense that we had to do something significant to ensure that this letter did not remain mere words on paper.
However, the task ahead seemed very daunting. In an over-stretched church, dwindling in numbers, Laudato Sí risked being seen as an irrelevance to the vast majority of Catholics.
However, those involved in justice, peace and creation care felt a major step was required. Meeting shortly after the launch of Laudato Sí, we agreed that a working group on the encyclical under the auspices of the Bishops’ Conference would be very helpful. The bishops agreed and the group was established. It includes scholars and experts in the areas of theology, climatology, international development, pastoral work and education.
Almost all of the members were lay people who gave their time voluntarily.
Over the past two years the group has gone from strength to strength, awakening the call to action in Laudato Sí across the church. A key approach has been to provide materials for reflection and in-service trainings to clergy and staff of the Church – starting with the bishops, who all received a one-day training in February 2018. This has been critical in plugging the gap that exists in theological formation – a big obstacle to moving Laudato Sí forward. With this foundation set, many other very significant initiatives followed in individual departments, ranging from incorporation in the World Meeting of Families to the adoption of the annual Season of Creation across the whole church.
One decision that stands out is the bishops’ conference commitment to divest their financial resources from fossil fuels. Having understood the message of Laudato Sí and its call to “shift away from fossil fuels without delay” (#165), the Laudato Sí group, supported by the expertise of Trócaire which has led a national divestment campaign, proposed to the Finance and General Purposes Council that the bishops make a statement on fossil fuels. An expert presentation was made by Trócaire to the Finance Committee in May 2018 and a motion proposed that resources should be removed from fossil fuels. The motion was passed without objection and received the backing of the full Bishops’ Conference. The announcement was made in Christchurch Cathedral on the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland.
The bishops’ decision to divest as part of their implementation of Laudato Sí is significant. In the words of Bishop William Crean, Chairman of Trócaire: “Our announcement, whilst modest in terms of financial resources, is more than just symbolic. It is about joining the growing social movement, led by young people across the world, calling for the realignment of our financial policies to safeguard their future. It makes good sense and it is the least that we can offer our future generations. Together with our brothers and sisters in the Church of Ireland, and with many Religious Congregations in Ireland that have already divested, we now call on all faith organisations at home and abroad to consider joining the global divestment movement.”
N.B. The picture above shows climate justice prayer ribbons which were collected at World Meeting Of Families and taken to Katowice as part of the Climate Pilgrimage.