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A man collected water from the Athi River near Yathui, Kenya, Oct. 27. He will use the water to irrigate crops on dry farmland.

More online: Priests at Catholic mission in Kenya help communities cope with impact of climate change, consecutive seasons with too little rain. www.stlreview.com/3BHSlMA
A man collected water from the Athi River near Yathui, Kenya, Oct. 27. He will use the water to irrigate crops on dry farmland. More online: Priests at Catholic mission in Kenya help communities cope with impact of climate change, consecutive seasons with too little rain. www.stlreview.com/3BHSlMA
Photo Credit: Fredrick Nzwili | Catholic News Service

Pope urges leaders at COP26 to be courageous in tackling climate change

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, delivered a message from Pope Francis to COP26 President Alok Sharma during national statements at the U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 2.
Photo Credits: Daniel Leal-Olivas | Reuters pool
VATICAN CITY — Education, a change in lifestyles and a model of development focused “on fraternity and on the covenant between human beings and the natural environment” are urgently needed to slow climate change and care for its victims, Pope Francis said in a message to world leaders at the COP26 summit.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state and head of the Holy See delegation to the U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, read portions of the pope’s message to the assembly Nov. 2.

The cardinal was one of more than 50 speakers, most of whom were heads of state or government leaders, delivering three-minute “national statements” during the high-level segment of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The high-level segment will resume Nov. 9-10, and negotiations will close Nov. 12.

The Vatican released the full text of the pope’s message, which was submitted as part of the official record of the summit.

Like other leaders who spoke of the concrete commitments their governments were making, Pope Francis briefly explained the action the Vatican had adopted; the first is to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

But the Holy See, with its influence over parishes, schools and universities around the globe, also is committed, he said, to promoting “education in integral ecology,” meaning a focus on both the needs of the earth and on the needs of the people who inhabit it.

“These commitments have given rise to thousands of initiatives worldwide,” the pope wrote.

The “vital task” of the Glasgow meeting, he said, is to show the world that “there really exists a political will to devote — with honesty, responsibility and courage — greater human, financial and technological resources to mitigating the negative effects of climate change and assisting the poorer and more vulnerable nations most affected by it.”

The wealthier nations must lead the way, he said, not just because they have the resources, but also because they owe an “ecological debt” to the poorer countries whose resources they have long exploited.

“The wounds inflicted on our human family by the COVID-19 pandemic and the phenomenon of climate change are comparable to those resulting from a global conflict,” Pope Francis said. “Today, as in the aftermath of the Second World War, the international community as a whole needs to set as a priority the implementation of collegial, solidary and farsighted actions.”

The pope assured the world leaders that the majority of their people, no matter their religious belief, see protecting the environment as a moral and spiritual issue that must be faced.

Special attention must be paid to the impact climate-change mitigation efforts will have on the labor market and on the world’s poorest people, he said.

“Sadly, we must acknowledge how far we remain from achieving the goals set for tackling climate change,” he said. “We need to be honest: This cannot continue!”

“Now is the time to act, urgently, courageously and responsibly,” he told the leaders. “The young, who in recent years have strongly urged us to act, will only inherit the planet we choose to leave to them, based on the concrete choices we make today.”

At his weekly Sunday Angelus address Oct. 31, the pope urged world leaders to take action in stemming the adverse effects of climate change.

As world leaders gathered in Glasgow, he also said he hoped it “might provide efficacious responses, offering concrete hope to future generations.”

The pope met with several world leaders who were in Rome for the G-20 summit before attending the Oct. 31-Nov. 12 conference in Glasgow. Among those he met were U.S. President Joe Biden, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Indian President Narendra Modi.

‘Entire human family’ must help solve climate crisis, say Catholic leaders

WASHINGTON — The challenge posed by climate change “demands ongoing effort from all of us,” three U.S. Catholic leaders said in a statement issued in Washington Oct. 31, the opening day of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

The annual conference, also known as COP26, “is an opportunity for all nations to protect the environment while at the same time providing reliable, affordable and carbon free energy through innovation and enterprise, ensuring a better future for the entire human family, especially for the working class, the poor and marginalized,” the leaders said.

Issuing the joint statement were Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace; and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency.

“The climate crisis is complex and demands the discernment and cooperation of the entire human family,” they said, praising the Biden administration’s recent commitments in anticipation of the 13-day conference to reduce carbon dioxide and methane emissions “within our own borders.”

Biden has pledged to cut U.S. carbon emissions by 50% to 52% below 2005 levels by the end of this decade and has urged other countries to join the U.S. in committing to cut methane gas emissions by at least 30% below 2020 levels also by the end of the decade.

Biden also said his administration supported increasing climate finance contributions for adaptation and mitigation in low-income countries.

Archbishop Coakley, Bishop Malloy and Callahan quoted from Pope Francis’ message to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund this spring, noting the pontiff “spoke of the ‘ecological debt’ developed nations must pay, ‘not only by significantly limiting their consumption of nonrenewable energy or by assisting poorer countries to enact policies and programs of sustainable development, but also by covering the costs of the innovation required for that purpose.’”

“We unite with the Holy Father in upholding the Church’s teaching that creation is a precious gift of God intended to be shared by all,” they said. “To protect this gift, as the world races toward a sustainable future, we must not forget those who suffer the greatest from ecological degradation.”

“Climate leadership,” they added, “requires finding common ground in the pursuit of the common good, for the entire planet is our one ‘common home.’”

Kenyan priests help communities cope with impact of climate change

By Fredrick Nzwili | Catholic News Service

NAIROBI, Kenya — When needy parishioners come to Father Patrick Ndonga’s doorstep, they leave with a small bag of beans or cornmeal or even a small bottle of cooking oil.

At St. Stephen Catholic Mission in the Machakos Diocese, the priest is caring for a congregation suffering chronic food and water shortages due to failed rains. For two consecutive seasons, the rains have been too little to support a harvest or fill up water sources such as dams and pans.

Recently, some of the villagers started appearing at the mission seeking food or manual labor to help feed their families.

“They come every day looking for food and some work. This has been more frequent in the last two years. The people have not seen a harvest since 2019,” Father Ndonga said from Yathui. “The environment is very hostile at the moment, and the only hope they keep is in the Church.”

The priest — like many other clerics — is helping the community cope with frequent droughts and food shortages. He said when the people arrive asking for food, he shares what other Christians have given. Sometimes the basket is empty, so he assigns them some manual work for a little pay, so they can buy food, at least for that day.

“It’s the poor who come, the old and the orphaned. If I have nothing, as I sometimes do, I tell them the basket is empty,” said Father Ndonga. “It’s a mystery how people are surviving. I think it is by God’s grace.”

Yet, the situation in Yathui is typical of many areas in Kenya and Africa. In September, the Kenyan government declared an ongoing drought disaster. It said at least 2.1 million people in 10 of the country’s 47 counties were affected by the climate change-induced drought.

In the Yathui area, everything revolves around rain-fed small-scale agriculture, but frustrations have set in as it becomes too difficult to predict weather patterns or rainfall.

While some people might not understand the complex science behind global warming or climate change, they know something is wrong.

Father Ndonga said when the rains fail — as is happening more frequently — the people become desperate but accept that God is teaching them something. Some who have heard about climate change say new survival tactics are needed but do not offer solutions, the priest said.

“From the pulpit, I am telling the congregations to adopt new farming methods to focus more on the drought-resistant crops, such as millet, sorghum and cassava,” said Father Ndonga.

“This is semi-arid area, and the people need to be educated on new farming methods and crops so that they can get a harvest,” he added.

The priest is teaching by example, going beyond rain-fed agriculture to tap borehole and dam water for farming. He is using the water to irrigate a small church farm within the mission compound. Although the small dam has since dried up, Father Ndonga hopes when the rains come, the dam will fill up again and support irrigation in the next dry season.

“I have been selling cabbages to the community. The crops were grown using simple drip irrigation, with the water being drawn from the borehole,” he said, adding that the future of Kenya’s small-scale agriculture is irrigation.

This farming method is turning into a learning process for the local congregation, with many coming to see and learn. The food harvested from the farm is used to feed students at a school he runs at the mission, while the surplus is sold in the community.

“Water in the parishes makes a lot of difference,” said Father Gerald Matolo, the priest in charge of Kavatini Parish in Kibwezi East area.

Stephen Kituku, a Kenya country consultant of the Cross Catholic Outreach, also stresses irrigation. The organization is drilling boreholes in Kenyan Catholic parishes to end water shortages and enable the parishes to engage in some form of farming for food sufficiency.

“The rains have become very unreliable. We are helping drill the boreholes so that the parishes can have enough water for use on Sundays and also engage in farming. Some have been depending on the congregations for food,” said Kituku, a former Kenyan national director of the Catholic charitable agency Caritas.

In the Isiolo Apostolic Vicariate, the Church through Caritas is moving to cushion the communities and help them survive the prolonged drought. Caritas gives out livestock feed and cash transfers to households as part of its emergency response, with support from Catholic Relief Services, the humanitarian agency of Catholics in the United States.

Caritas Isiolo has given out a cash transfer of about $50 to 700 households for four months. It is also rehabilitating boreholes as part of the drought response.

“The drought is continuing and it’s very severe in a couple of places,” said James Galgalo, director of Caritas in Isiolo. “The whole aspect of sinking boreholes is to mitigate against climate change effect.”

He explained that since the people of the diocese are largely farmers, Caritas was trying diversification, putting the people in groups and urging them to save some money as groups. In 12 months, some of the groups have saved between $27,000 and $63,000.

“So, when the saving is shared, it’s a good sum of money that the people can invest. Some are investing in new dairy breeds, while others have bought poultry chicken. Some have established small shops,” said Galgalo.

He said the people know about climate change because they have seen the rains coming late or triggering floods. Caritas officials have explained to them that discussions are ongoing on what each county can do and what each person can do to mitigate climate change.

“So, we encourage them to engage in tree planting or think of what they can do to improve rainfall,” he said.

At the same time, Father Ndonga urges richer nations responsible for gas emissions that cause climate change to show concern for poor communities.

“They should look for other means to run the industries. Climate change impacts are devastating poor communities,” said the priest.

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