By Linda Bordoni
Planting seven million trees across 8,000 km land, through the 11 countries of the arid Sahel region in Africa is the aim at the heart of an initiative to combat desertification and ward off drought, famine, conflict and migration.
That’s the goal of the “Laudato Tree” initiative Pope Francis upheld during his 10 May Regina Coeli address, thanking the young people working to make it happen, and encouraging all to engage in the “Laudato Sì” Anniversary Year that runs until 24 May 2021.
The “Year”, that kicked off on the 5th anniversary of the Encyclical, is promoted by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. It emphasizes the need for “ecological conversion in action” through a series of events and projects dedicated to environmental care, education and the economy.
Journalist and rights activist, Don Mullan, the founder of Hope Initiatives International, an organization that promotes human legacy projects including the “Great Green Wall” and the “Laudato Tree” initiative, talked to Linda Bordoni about the project and Pope Francis’ unexpected embrace:
The “Laudato Tree” movement, Don Mullan explained, which is directly inspired by the Pope’s Encyclical on the care for our common home, is a young people’s movement led by 16-year-old Vivienne Harr, who is based in San Francisco but is working with young people across Africa in support of the Great Green Wall.
From Dakar to Djibouti, the “Great Green Wall” is a pan-African initiative that aims to reverse the effects of desertification caused by climate change in the 11 countries of the Sahel-Sahara Region.
Mullan said that the Pope’s support for the Laudato Tree initiative and challenge gave all those involved a huge boost.
“It was an extraordinary privilege,” he said, and “What was interesting is that Vivienne started out with the ambition of growing a million trees on the great green wall; so we smiled when Pope Francis added ‘at least a million trees’ and since then, particularly given the fact that we are in the context of a special anniversary year celebrating Laudato Sì, we decided the target would be 7 million trees.”
Mullan explained that the trees will be delivered by the John Paul II foundation for the Sahel that is working closely with the project, involving parish groups across the Sahel and getting young people involved.
A ribbon of hope
According to the Laudato Tree website, its goal is to plant 7 million trees across 8,000 km of land through 11 countries on a mission to rebuild the lungs of the Earth and improve the quality of life on our planet.
The initiative, Mullan explained, came to life to support the Great Green Wall project, whose seeds were sown back in 1980 by Pope Saint John Paul II when he visited Burkina Faso “and on 10 May, in the Cathedral of Ougadougu, launched an appeal to the whole world to help the people of the Sahel who were suffering a terrible drought.”
Following that appeal, Mullan continued, The John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel was founded in 1984, and it has been operational ever since. He said it has distributed 64 million dollars across the Sahel supporting local communities, including “many small Muslim communities, so it's very much and interfaith Foundation.”
The idea for the Great Green Wall, he explained, first emerged in Burkina Faso through its leader, Thomas Sankara, “who had the idea that Africa should grow a line of trees and vegetation stretching from Senegal across to Djibouti - about 8000 km – to halt desertification, to help regenerate degraded land and to create food security”.
And very important, he noted, it was also to create hope for the people of the Sahel giving them the opportunity to stay in their homelands instead of being forced to migrate thanks to the creation of “10 million green jobs”.
Rebuilding the lungs of the earth
The Laudato Tree website reveals that one tree can absorb over 40 tons (or 80,000 pounds) of carbon dioxide in its lifetime.
“Trees are extraordinary: God has created all the wherewithal for us to help heal the earth, but we have to learn to live in harmony, that is the challenge, and this decade is crucial,” Mullan said.
Another important point to consider, he said, is the fact that Laudato Tree is an initiative that springs from the soul of Africa and that all who are involved are working in solidarity and service to the people and the continent.
He said it is priviledged to work alongside some powerful partners, including the African Union and the United Nations, and now, - last but not least – the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development
Mullan, who has been involved in securing a 1.2-million-euro contribution from the Irish government to the UN and to the AU to carry out an inventory across the Sahel because the aim is to deliver the project in 2030, the UN year deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals, was thrilled to highlight the important role played by the John Paul II Foundation for Sahel.
Thanks to the Foundation, he said, “the universal Catholic church now has a means to contribute meaningfully to the growing of this New World Wonder which will be the longest continuing living organism on the planet when it is completed: three times larger than the Great Barrier Reef in Australia!”
A gift of 1000 trees from Cardinal Turkson on behalf of the Pope
Mullan said the planting season for trees in the Sahel is in July and August, and Laudato Tree aims to plant 100,000 trees this year.
“1000 of those trees will be a gift from Cardinal Turkson in the name of Pope Francis and in the name of Laudato Sì that is really going to have a tangible presence in the Sahel," he said, “and we would love to get people involved.”
That’s easy: each tree costs just 10 US dollars and you can find out how to donate on the website: laudatotree.org
“Vivienne,” and all of us at Laudato Tree, Don Mullan said, “believe that one tree, one person, one small act is what changes things.”