Sisters advocating for environment on behalf of the ignored and excluded
By Sr Bernadette M. Reis, fsp
On Thursday afternoon, just days ahead of COP27 in Egypt, the International Union of Superiors General launches a statement on behalf of Sisters for the Environment: Integrating Voices from the Margins. The event was held at the UISG headquarters in Rome, with people attending both in person and virtually.
Sr Pat Murray introduced the event, declaring that “when we meet those on the margins of life, they change us”. The vowed life of women religious calls them to be prophets, to be voices for those who are ignored or excluded, she said.
Embodying spirit of cooperation
One of the areas in which women religious seek to advocate on behalf of those who are not at the bargaining table is climate change. The statement which the UISG releases just days ahead of COP27 in Egypt, “embodies the spirit of cooperation we seek to promote, drawing on collaborations between UISG offices, partners and funders”, Sr Pat Murray explained. Furthermore, the “essence of this statement is based on the global experience of advocacy that has coalesced around UISG’s environmental campaign Sowing Hope for the Planet”, launched in 2018. This campaign has “promoted and shared a multitude of initiatives and best practices established by Sisters and their partners” in response to Pope Francis’s Encyclical Letter Laudato si’.
Strategies needed now
Joining the launch was Francesca di Giovanni, Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs in the Section for Relations with States. She acknowledged that many women religious work directly with the people both affected by and trying to effect change regarding climate change. Climate change, she acknowledged “disproportionately affects those on the margins”, requiring short and long-term, and intergenerational strategies “now”. Women religious can respond to the “cries of the earth and the cries of the poor”, she continued, as well as promote a style of life harmonized with nature.
H.E. Chiara Porro, Ambassador of Australia to the Holy See, was also on hand, representing a region confronting many effects from climate change. The voices of those on the peripheries can be heard through groups, such as the UISG, advocating for them in the halls of world meetings, such as the upcoming COP27 in Egypt, she said. Ms. Porro then highlighted how one woman religious, Sr Adele Howard, a Sister of Mercy in Australia, has been collecting data regarding the religious views toward the planet held by various indigenous peoples. She has thus been able to collate what she calls the “ecological consciousness” that many original peoples innately cling to. Her work, Ms Porro said, shows clearly that “the loss of our land is the loss of who we are”.
Appeal to turn the tide of destruction
Presenting the Statement itself was Sr Sheila Kinsey, Sowing Hope for the Planet coordinator, who began by enumerating how women religious have been involved in various ecological initiatives. The present statement, she explained, is intended to “reflect and clarify the response of Catholic Sisters to the environmental challenges of our time”, but also “addresses the urgency of the current moment, identifying COP27 on climate change and COP15 on biodiversity as crucial opportunities to turn the tide of destruction that is ravishing our Earth”. Before reading the text of the statement, Sr Sheila then launched an appeal to others to join women religious in seeking solutions “to ensure a safe and thriving future for all people and for our planet”.
Also featured in the event were testimonies of various women religious. Sr Nathalie Kangaji, a Canoness of Saint Augustine of the Notre-Dame Congregation, from the DCR shared how she helps “local communities set up and consolidate participatory government committees, so they can form pressure groups for environmental protection and good governance”. And Sister of Notre Dame Jyotisha Kannamkal sees “Responding to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor as an integral dimension of my consecration in renewing the face of the earth”. She shared said that seeing how the poor are affected by the ecological crisis disturbs her. “My inner voice”, she said, “is urging me to fully commit to advocacy for integral ecology”.
UISG members plan on sending a delegation to COP27. One sister who hopes to go is Daughter of Wisdom, Sr. Jean Quinn. Joining the event virtually, she compared her participation at COP27 as a pilgrimage. “We are going on a pilgrimage, as pilgrims, to a place of challenge…. The challenge”, she continued, “will to be heard, in the right places, with a prophetic voice, and to raise our voices”. After so many “COP” meetings, Sr Jean noted that it is time for implementation. In addition, lifting the debt off of nations burdened with debt would also enable them to begin to invest in climate change policies, she said.