Bishops launch pastoral reflection on climate change ‘The Cry of the Earth’

10 Nov 2009

10 November 2009

Bishops launch pastoral reflection on climate change The Cry of the Earth

  • The Cry of the Earth calls for an ‘ecological conversion’ from everyone
  • Parishes invited to conduct local environmental audit
Archbishop Dermot Clifford, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, today launched The Cry of the Earth, a pastoral reflection on climate change from the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.  The launch took place in St Francis of Assisi Primary School in Belmayne, Dublin, beside Father Collins Park, Ireland’s first wholly sustainable park.

Launching The Cry of the Earth Archbishop Clifford said “We are all stewards of God’s creation.  As political leaders from around the globe meet in Copenhagen next month for the UN Framework Conference on Climate Change to decide on a new global climate change deal, the Bishops of Ireland wish to raise awareness of our vital responsibility toward sustaining the environment.  We need to protect the environment today and on behalf of future generations.  Our response needs to be at an individual, community and governmental level.

The Cry of the Earth, with an accompanying DVD, has been sent to all parishes and is available on  It reflects on our Christian responsibility towards the environment and outlines the scientific analysis of climate change, the theological and ethical principles as to why we as Christians have a duty to respond, and practical advice as to how we can act now to sustain the environment.”

Archbishop Clifford continued “When the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, published his encyclical Caritas in Veritate in July he reminded us that the ‘environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole … The Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere.” [see full speech below]

The Cry of the Earth is a resource for those who care for a better environment.  In it parishes are asked to establish groups to discuss various actions, such as: 

  • conduct an environmental audit of your parish
  • increase our use of renewable energy, recycle more, waste less
  • raise awareness in the parish of our carbon footprint
  • show solidarity by supporting Trócaire’s Climate Change campaign
  • enrol in the Eco-Congregation Ireland environmental programme for Churches
  • include the theme of care for God’s creation in homilies, prayers of the faithful and examinations of conscience.
Columban missionary priest Father Seán McDonagh, a contributor to The Cry of the Earth, said at the launch “On 3 November last the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki-Moon, addressed 200 religious leaders at a Celebration of Faiths and the Environment at Windsor, London.  He implored religious leaders to make their voice heard in the run up to the Copenhagen Conference in December.  He told them ‘you can inspire, you can provide, you can challenge your political leaders through your wisdom and through your followers.’ 

The Cry of the Earth is an attempt by the Irish Bishops to respond to the challenge of climate change by drawing on the wisdom of contemporary science and our faith tradition which is rooted in the Bible and the witness of the Church down through the ages.  The Cry of the Earth marries science, good theology, prayer and action. It calls for an ‘ecological conversion’ from everyone, especially in the way we used fossil fuel.  This is a timely challenge one month before the Copenhagen Conference.”

Professor John Sweeney, Director of the Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units, NUI Maynooth, also spoke at the launch and was a contributor to The Cry of the Earth.  Professor Sweeney said “Belief in global climate change is not a matter of faith.  The evidence that the planet is undergoing rapid climate change is factual and beyond scientific dispute.  In terms of causation, for almost all the world’s atmospheric scientists, the debate about the human contribution to climate change is now over.

“It is urgent that tackling the greatest challenge facing humanity this century be confronted by all sectors of society.  How we do this raises difficult ethical and moral problems, not least in terms of how we assist the most vulnerable peoples and nations, many of whom are victims of our actions.  It is here that religious leaders can provide principles to guide decision makers.  This document emphasises the need to change our mentality towards the natural world, to respect the integrity of nature and to turn away from excessively consumptive lifestyles.  These are very basic Christian principles shared with all faiths and call on us to extend a helping hand to our neighbour by recognising there is another way to share the planet.  In the lead up to the pivotal Copenhagen conference, where the nations of the world will grapple with the difficulties of reaching a consensus on sharing the burden of greenhouse gas emission reductions, today’s pastoral reflection is a welcome initiative to remind us that scientific and political action should be underpinned by Christian principles.”

Mr Justin Kilcullen, Director of Trócaire, the Bishops’ overseas aid agency, said “Climate change is not a distant threat.  It is a daily reality and the people that are being hit the hardest are the poorest in the world.  The Cry of the Earth is especially relevant ahead of the Copenhagen Conference.  At this summit world leaders need to agree to take responsibility for the impact of climate change and commit financial support to developing countries to help them cope with its devastating effects.

“The role of the Catholic Church will be critical in the run up to Copenhagen, to remind world leaders of their moral duty to support those whose lives have already been devastated by climate change and commit to the lifestyle changes we all need to take for the common good.”


Notes to Editors

– Please see below for remarks of Archbishop Dermot Clifford at the launch event

– To coincide with the launch the full text and summary versions of The Cry of the Earth has been sent to parishes throughout the country.  The pastoral reflection is available on in the English, Irish and Polish languages with an accompanying reflection in DVD format and two video interviews:
  • Archbishop Clifford discussing the stewardship role of the Church and its people in relation to the environment;
  • Professor John Sweeney, Director of the Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units at NUI Maynooth, explaining how climate change and global warming have been driven predominantly by human activity and the consequences for people, agriculture and for the economy in this country.
– Additional resources on this web feature include suggested reading and information on the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of the environment.

Remarks by Archbishop Dermot Clifford at the launch of The Cry of the Earth

Everyone complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it” Woody Allen remarked.

An increasing number of people are anxious about climate change but few enough people are taking them with the degree of seriousness which they deserve. The ecological crisis as it is called is becoming more urgent by the day. Not nearly enough is being done about it as world, national or at local level.

While it would be more plausible to launch a pastoral reflection on global warming if the temperature was ten degrees higher this morning, the timing of the launch a few weeks before the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen is spot on, you will agree.  It is to be hoped, that despite the economic recession that the representatives of 170 governments of the world will agree to meaningful targets to cut carbon emissions over the next ten years.  “We have a decade to get our act together” claims John Sweeney of the International IPCC. When the Bishops recommend large cuts in carbon emissions it is not just to be up with the present fashions of cuts for all!

The setting for the launch is very well chosen, St. Francis of Assisi National School in Belmayne.  It is situated near Fr. Collins Park in Donaghmede which is powered by sustainable energy.  Later the pupils will sing the beautiful hymn Make Me a Channel of Your Peace which is attributed to St. Francis, the Patron Saint of Ecology, due to his love for the Creator, for animals and birds.

I think the presence of the school children and their participation in the ceremony is particularly heart-warming.  The children of today are our best hope of slowing down and reversing climate change in the years between now and 2050A.D. One can see children’s enthusiasm all over the country for winning the green flag for their school.  They may also be our best hope of engaging their elders in the ecological conversion which is demanded if we are not to pass on a toxic planet to them and their children down the line.  Pope John Paul II said, “We are heading for an ecological catastrophe unless we halt at the edge of the Abyss.”  That was in 1991!  How much progress has been made since?

The Pastoral Reflection has two parts.  The first outlines the scientific evidence for global warming.  We looked to the scientists for assistance in this area.  They leave us in no doubt that the temperature of the earth has been on the rise since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution two hundred and fifty years ago.  The average global temperature has risen in 2008 by 0.7˚C since the late nineteenth century, yet the consequences of this small change has already been considerable. The vast majority of climate scientists put the rise in temperature down mainly to carbon emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

If the present upward trend continues to 2˚C, and beyond, climate scientists tell us we are likely to have more heat waves, floods, storms, fire, droughts and famines.  These will cause death or displacement for hundred millions of people.  Environmental refugees will run into millions because their places will no longer be habitable. A rise of 1˚C to 2˚C could see the extinction of one third of the species of the world.  “And now read on” as Con Houlihan would say.

A grave injustice is being added to the people of the Third World.  They are responsible for 3% of carbon emissions and they are the ones who are most likely to bear the brunt of the fall-out of climate change. The least that they are owed is the means to develop their economies in a way that does not follow the disastrous path which the richer nations have been pursuing over the past hundred years or so.

In the second part of the reflection the Bishops feel more at home.  They situate the subject of the environment in Scripture and Theology and they suggest a Christian response. I recall what a lady in Templemore said immediately after she heard a pastoral letter of mine on the environment read at Mass.  “That was a lovely pastoral, there wasn’t a bit of religion in it”. Talk about a left-handed compliment!

The Creation account in the Book of Genesis states that on the fifth day, “God saw all he had created and it was good”.  Then, when He created man and woman, “He saw all he had created and it was very good.”  He instructed Adam and Eve, our First Parents to till the soil and to care for His creation. How have the human race exercised their stewardship down through the millennia?  I will give you two verdicts.  The first came from a participant at the Kyoto Conference on Climate Change in 1997:

Nearly half of the earth’s rain forests are gone…water tables are dropping rapidly…farmland, rivers and costal waters are saturated with nitrates and phosphates…one in four of Europe’s trees are dying due to acid rain…up to ten per cent of the earth’s species of plants and animals have been made extinct.  Fourteen of the world’s seventeen major fishing grounds are either fished out or seriously depleted.

Pope John Paul II pronounces the second verdict:

Unfortunately, when we scan the regions of our planet, we immediately see that humanity has disappointed God’s expectations.  Man, especially in our time, has without hesitation devastated wooded plains and valleys, polluted waters, disfigured the earth’s habitats, made the air unbreathable, disturbed the hydro geological and atmospheric systems, turned luxuriant areas into desert and undertaken forms of unrestrained industrialisation, degrading the “flowerbed”.  Dante’s image of the earth, which is our dwelling place”.

Two out of ten we would give ourselves! We have been despots rather than stewards!  A modern theologian, Fr. John Fullenback said:

“The earth is the first sacrament of God’s love for its inhabitants; it is the world that gives life and nurtures it, it is a partner in the journey of humanity toward the Kingdom.  The earth can no longer be considered as an object to be controlled and dominated or as a means to be used or misused as on pleases.  The earth is part of humanity and humans are part of the earth: they have a common destiny.  To abuse the earth is to threaten life; to respect the earth, to treasure it as one of God’s greatest gifts, is to ensure life”.

The Irish Bishops are seeking to raise awareness of the importance and the urgency of taking steps to reverse global warming.  They are addressing the parishes, the schools and the families.  They offer some practical actions which individuals and parishes can take to reduce the impact that many of our day to day activities have on the environment.  Action at global level through the Copenhagen Conference must be supported at individual level.  Every action taken in favour of a more sustainable environment no matter how small has an immense value.  To quote Pope Benedict’s recent Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, he invites contemporary society…

to a serious review of its lifestyle, which, in many parts of the world, is prone to hedonism and consumerism, regardless of their harmful consequences.  What is needed is an effective shift in mentality which can lead to the adoption of new lifestyles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments”.

A good example is President Mary McAleese’s turning off lights in Áras an Uachtaráin.  She is saving on electricity bills, she is lowering carbon emissions and she is giving leadership and example to us all.  Recalling her predecessor’s Mary Robinson’s gesture towards the Irish Diaspora by placing a light in the window, one could re-echo the famous passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes

There is a season for everything…
There is a time for turning on lights and a time for turning lights off

At this very difficult economic time, we must be seeking ways and means to reduce carbon emissions which save money in the long term if not in the short – improved insulation of our houses would reduce heating costs.  Government grants for these improvements would ensure a lowering of carbon emissions and considerable savings into the future.

We are now the stewards of God’s creation: our responsibility is grave and it is urgent.  We must be much better stewards than we have been up to now.  We must aim to hand on the planet to the generations who come after us in a better condition than it is today.  If we pass on a polluted, toxic environment to our children and grandchildren, they will not thank us for it!

But, as Christians, we must always end on a note of hope.  Is there hope for halting global warming?  A joint declaration of Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Church states that:

It is not too late.  God’s world has incredible healing powers.  Within a generation, we could steer the earth towards our children’s future.  Let this generation start now with God’s hope and blessing.”

I should like to thank all those good people, lay and religious, who helped us over the past two years in writing this Reflection.  In particular, I thank our Committee: Fr. Sean McDonagh, Professor John Sweeney, Nobel Prize Winner, Ms Maura Hyland of Veritas, Ms Colette Denver, Ms Lorna Gold, Sr Catherine Brennan, Ms Orla Walsh and Fr Eoin Cassidy.  Also Fr Tim Bartlett who co-ordinated the project in the middle of a very busy life, Francis Cousins and Martin Long.

Finally, I should like to express my sincere gratitude to the Principal, Ms. Assumpta Kerins, for her warm welcome to St. Francis of Assisi National School.  Also Ms Bernie Martin for her beautiful rendition of the Canticle of the Sun.  St Francis extended the concept of neighbour to all living creatures. The main sources of energy and life were Brother sun and Sister water.  All God’s creatures great and small were his family and neighbours.

I thank Fr. Eoin McCrystal, Parish Priest of Donaghmede, Clongriffin and Balgriffin, able successor to Fr. Joe Collins, who secured this local amenity.

The magnificent Fr. Collins Park lies adjacent to the school and we can see the wind turbines working away from the window here.  I walked the park before today’s launch and was very impressed by it.  The man-made lake, the beautiful landscaping, the mixture of saplings, shrubbery and mature trees as well as the occasional health fitness station, all made for a more enjoyable experience.  The attractive park is powered by renewable energy and I understand that it even contributes modestly, on occasion, to the national energy grid.

I now launch The Cry of the Earth.  In the Irish phrase, “tosach math leath in h-oibre.  A good start is half the battle.”

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