“Evil books will be abundant on earth and the sprits of darkness will spread everywhere a universal slackening of all that concerns the service of God. They will have great power over Nature: there will be churches built to serve these spirits. People will be transported from one place to another by these evil spirits, even priests, for they will not have been guided by the good spirit of the Gospel which is a spirit of humility, charity and zeal for the glory of God. Our Lady of La Salette 19 Sept. 1846 (Published by Mélanie 1879)
About 18 months ago, I was at home in Papua New Guinea when a papal ambassador visited me with unexpected news. The Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea was receiving its very first cardinal, and it was I who had been appointed.
From that life-changing moment, one question has been foremost in my mind: how to best serve my people? For us in Papua New Guinea, as for many people here in the U.S., the answer is both simple and very challenging. One of the best ways to serve everyday people is to address climate change.
A concern that confronts residents of both the U.S. and Papua New Guinea is our rising seas, which are driven upwards by melting glaciers and warming waters. I come from a nation of islands in the southern Pacific Ocean, and rising seas mean that water creeps constantly closer to shoreline homes, schools, and businesses. Of course, sea level rise also threatens homes and livelihoods in the U.S., with the highly populated economic powerhouses of Miami and New York City being prime examples.
In the U.S., the incredible scenes of flooding in Houston that Hurricane Harvey brought us were likely a result of a fairly normal storm meeting abnormally warm coastal waters. For us Pacific Islanders, a similar event occurred in 2008, when 65,000 people were displaced by this combination of sea level rise and weather.
My vocation has led me to hours of crisis inside the homes and businesses of many people who suffer the consequences of a warmer world.
As a person of faith, I believe that God calls us to care for one another. Because climate change hurts so many people, solving it is central to our faith. That’s among the reasons why it’s been the subject of papal teaching for decades, starting with Saint Pope John Paul II, continuing through Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and finding expression today in Pope Francis.
Last week, I visited the U.S. Congress. There and elsewhere, I spoke with leaders from both sides of the political spectrum who see, as I do, that addressing climate change is one of the most important ways to serve our sisters and brothers in Christ. I learned that the U.S. military has identified climate change as being one of the world’s biggest threats.
The science on climate change is clear. It is driven by the enormous amounts of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas that we burn. Of course, these fuels have been essential to our modern prosperity, and we owe miners and oilmen a debt of gratitude for the difficult, dangerous jobs they’ve held that made that prosperity possible.
However, we now know that burning these fuels releases gases that act like a blanket in our atmosphere, where they trap the sun’s heat close to the surface of our planet. This wreaks havoc with our planet’s sensitive thermostat, leading to warmer seas (and the extreme storms they generate), changing rainfall patterns (and more conflicts among subsistence farmers), and wider territory for mosquitoes (and the malaria they carry).
These challenges reveal that climate change isn’t a political issue, but a human issue.
The good news is that we do have the power to turn this around. Scientists, businesses, and faith leaders are already working hand-in-hand to solve this crisis, and they are already creating good jobs and energy choices. Clean energy now supports more jobs in the U.S. than coal does.
We have a terrific start. But we’re deep into a crisis that affects all of us, and we need to pull together to face it. Much more ambition is needed, right away, to protect creation and all of us who share it.
People in Papua New Guinea and people in the U.S. face many of the same challenges when it comes to climate change. As the congressional leaders I spoke to return to their districts this year, I hope that they will share with their communities the good news that they are serving their people by addressing climate change.
MARIA OF THE CROSS,
Victim of Jesus nee MELANIE CALVAT,
Shepherdess of La Salette