On Friday, March 24th, 30 ecology leaders from the Jesuit world gathered at the USA East Province offices in New York City at the conclusion of several days of meetings for the United Nations’ Water Conference. Delegation members from the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network Africa (JENA), Amazon region, and Latin American Jesuit Higher Education joined parishioners from the Metro New York Catholic Climate Movement, Christian Life Community members, and several students from area Jesuit high schools. In spiritual conversation with one another, we shared our faith, moments of ecological conversion, responses from our varied local contexts, successful initiatives and ongoing struggles. Through this deep sharing of our work for ecological justice, I found hope, clarity and resolve to respond to the climate crisis with the urgency with which it demands.
Growing up along the Long Island Sound in Milford, Connecticut, I spent a lot of time walking, playing and swimming along the sandbar of Walnut Beach. I often took for granted that I could walk to the beach from the house I grew up in. Most summers, my aunt would come from Western Pennsylvania to visit our family; when we were not cooking and eating with my grandma, we would spend our days on the Sound. Now separated from the seashore by several states, My Aunt Linda saw the Milford beaches through different eyes. As I listened to Fr. Endashaw talk about the practice of Orthodox churches in Ethiopia building cathedrals in the mountains among the trees, reflecting the beauty and sacredness of creation that connects us to God, I remembered experiences of my youth with renewed appreciation.
During college at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York, I came to know community members working together to clean up the Bronx River and improve the access of neighbors to recreational spaces through parks along the watershed. Working alongside middle and high school students, life-long Bronx residents and immigrants in the community, I saw the vitality of this green space in a dense, urban area in a different way; the river offered a space to connect with nature, to exercise, to picnic, and to play. As I listened to Sonia reflect on the interconnectedness of social and ecological issues seen through her years living in poor and marginalized communities in Chile, people and experiences from the Bronx River flooded into my memory.
How can we come to see the climate crisis differently and respond with the required urgency? The most recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warns us that we need global cooperation, billions of dollars and big changes in our fossil fuel use by 2030, and even further work by 2050, to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. If we don’t take immediate, significant steps (slash global fossil fuel emissions; transition to clean energy and net zero economies; provide financial resources to communities from lower income areas in the US and other countries adapt and transition to clean energy), we can expect to see an increase in the severity of extreme weather, food shortages, water scarcity, and dangerous heat waves.
Many gathered in the room felt resistance to addressing the climate crisis from family, friends, neighbors and in our Church. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis called for a worldwide conversation on caring for creation that includes everyone, but people at the local level who are inspired by that vision and ready to lead engagement within individual parishes are running into walls. We face urgent food.