World faith leaders gather to call for action on climate

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican hopes a meeting where world religious leaders share a common stance on the environment can “build ambition” on what can be achieved at the UN climate change conference next month, its foreign minister says.

Organized by the Vatican, the United Kingdom and Italy, the all-day Monday event will bring together around 40 leaders from the world’s major religions and scholars from around 20 countries.

The heads of state and government, including Pope Francis, will sign a joint appeal and hand it over to Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and British Alok Sharma, President of the UN Assembly COP26 in Glasgow.

“We hope that (the Monday meeting) will influence opinion in general, but also within our denominations and faith families, and also within the political community, to instill ambition for what can be achieved through COP26,” said Archbishop Paul . Gallagher.

In a telephone interview with Reuters on Sunday, Gallagher said the Vatican hopes the direct appeal to the leaders of COP26 will have the same effect as the Pope’s groundbreaking 2015 environmental cyclical “Laudato Si” (Praise be).

It has drawn massive attention to the climate crisis and spurred activism by faith groups.

“Most of the religions represented, whether through their scriptures or their traditions or the spirituality they represent, have the foundation for a renewal of our relationship with the environment and the planet,” said Gallagher.

The meeting is titled “Faith and Science: Towards COP26”. It brings together Christian leaders including the Pope, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, as well as representatives of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism and Jainism.

Last month, the Pope, Welby and Bartholomew jointly appealed to members of their churches to “listen to the cry of the earth”.

Scotland’s bishops said in July that the Pope would attend the opening of COP26 if health permits. A decision is expected in the next few days.

Francis strongly supports the goals of the UN Paris Agreement of 2015 to reduce global warming. Over the weekend he told young people that their “maybe the last generation” to save the planet.

Brit Gallagher said it was “a sign of great hope” that President Joe Biden returned the United States to the Paris Accords following the withdrawal of his predecessor Donald Trump. Biden and the Pope are expected to meet at the Vatican in late October.

“Turning engagement into action is the big problem and we all know our leaders are very good at promising and very good at talking, but the action we need now is urgent and enormous,” he said.

He said the Vatican hopes the conference on Monday will underscore the need for an “ecological shift in our relationship with the planet” and the recognition that lifestyle changes are necessary but not easy.

“Most aspects of life have a political dimension and if you say that belief should be part of your life, then obviously your beliefs will influence your politics,” Gallagher said.

He said the organizers had no intention of inviting the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader who is not recognized by China.

“His Holiness the Dalai Lama knows how well he is respected here by the Holy See, but he also appreciates that our relationships (with China) are complicated and difficult and he has always respected that and we appreciate that very much so the dialogue with Buddhism continues on many, many levels, “he said.

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