Pope Francis waves to pilgrims during his March 28, 2018 general audience in St. Peter’s Square. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA
Pope Francis has highlighted the plight of people forced from their homes due to the climate crisis, calling on Catholics to respond with selflessness and charity.
In the preface to the document “Pastoral Orientations on Climate Displaced People,” published yesterday, Pope Francis said, “When we look, what do we see?”
“Many are being devoured in conditions that make it impossible to survive. Forced to abandon fields and shorelines, homes and villages, people flee in haste carrying just a few souvenirs and treasures, scraps of their culture and heritage,” he said.
“They set out in hope, meaning to restart their lives in a place of safety,” he added. “But where they mostly end up are dangerously overcrowded slums or makeshift settlements, waiting on fate.”
The pope said that when people are driven from their homes because they have become uninhabitable, “it might look like a process of nature, something inevitable.”
“Yet, the deteriorating climate is very often the result of poor choices and destructive activity, of selfishness and neglect, that set humankind at odds with creation, our common home,” he underlined.
“Pastoral Orientations on Climate Displaced People” was published by the Vatican’s Migrants and Refugees section, which is led by Canadian Cardinal Michael Czerny, S.J.
According to Fr. Fabio Baggio, C.S., under-secretary of the department, the guidelines are intended to help bishops’ conferences, dioceses, religious congregations, Catholic organizations, pastors, and all Catholics “in pastoral planning and development programs for the assistance of climate displaced persons.”
“The climate crisis has a ‘human face,’” Baggio said at a March 30 press conference. “It is already a reality for millions of people throughout the world, in particular for the inhabitants of the existential peripheries. The Catholic Church has a motherly concern for all those who have been displaced by the effects of this crisis.”
In the preface, Pope Francis said that the document “calls on us to broaden the way we look at this drama of our time. It urges us to see the tragedy of prolonged uprootedness that causes our brothers and sisters to cry out, year after year, ‘We can’t go back, and we can’t begin anew.’”
The document “invites us to become aware of the indifference of societies and governments to this tragedy,” he added. “It asks us to see, and to care. It invites the Church and others to act together, and spells out how we might do so.”
At the press conference, Fr. Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam outlined the drastic climate change caused by the rise in greenhouse gas emissions in the last several decades.
“We need to acknowledge that there exists a strong nexus between climate crisis and displacement,” he said, emphasizing that “the climate crisis is becoming one of the primary triggers of displacement in recent years.”
People can be forced to leave their homes due to “rapid-onset triggers, mainly extreme weather phenomena like floods, storms, droughts, and wildfires,” he said, or by “slow-onset processes like water scarcity and depletion of other natural resources, desertification, rising temperatures, and sea-level rise.”
Kureethadam said that in 2019, out of more than 33 million newly displaced people, 8.5 million were displaced because of violence and conflict, while 24.9 million people were displaced due to natural disasters.
“It is ultimately a moral problem,” he commented. “The poor and vulnerable communities whose carbon emissions are only a fraction of those of the rich world are already the early and disproportionate victims of the crisis.”
He noted that the designation of “climate-caused displacement,” or CCD, does not yet exist, and that “the poorest don’t even manage to cross” borders into new countries, but are mostly displaced within their own country, “because they don’t have any resources, any help to go anywhere.”
Pope Francis said that helping people in this situation “is the work the Lord asks now of us, and there is great joy in it. We are not going to get out of crises like climate or COVID-19 by hunkering down in individualism but only by ‘being many together,’ by encounter and dialogue and cooperation.”
“To see or not to see is the question that leads us to the answer in action together. These pages show us what is needed and, with God’s help, what to do.”