Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Climate Change and Churches in Latin America

The growing unpredictability of the rains and many other changes to the global climate are already impacting many communities around the world. Climate change is a major issue connected with many other social, economic, religious and political issues that require urgent actions from humanity. Those who are already the most vulnerable, marginalized and oppressed will experience the worst impacts of climate change, while having contributed the least to its causes.

This past September 2-5, 2015, the international seminar “Biblical-Theological Perspectives and Challenges of the Climate Crisis for Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean” was held in Barranquilla, Colombia. Discussions and presentations were held on what churches are already doing to confront the issue, as well as on the Pope’s recent encyclical “Laudato Si", and developing advocacy commitments together.

Faith communities in Latin America, as well as in the entire in world, have a large role to play in addressing the causes and consequences of climate change. Caring for neighbors and working for justice means concern for the world that we all share as our home. Climate justice was the focal point for church involvement in the issue.

At the heart of climate justice is the understanding the urgent action needed to prevent climate change must be based on community-led solutions. The well-being of local communities, Indigenous Peoples and the global poor, as well as biodiversity is the goal. This is to say that global poverty and inequality are inseparable from climate change and environmental destruction. One cannot fully be addressed without also addressing the other.

Neddy Astudillo, Latin American Coordinator of 
Our Voices, the global faith and spiritual climate 
action network, presenting  on “Biblical and theological 
perspectives on caring for creation”. 
Photo by Milton Mejia.
Milton Mejia, left (secretary-general of the Latin American 
Council of Churches), Father Rafael Castillo, middle, and Jairo 
Suarez, right (Coordinator of the Diaconal ministry of IELCO), representing the ecumenical efforts to 
overcome differences to protect our common home. Photo by Marcelo Leites

Olav Fyske, Secretary-General of the World Council of Churches 
presenting “Ecumenical perspective of the 
struggle against climate change and the care for creation.”
Photo by Milton Mejia.
As the Lutheran World Federation has recently stated: As a Lutheran Communion, we understand that climate change is an issue on justice, peace, the care for creation, and protection for all peoples everywhere. We raise a special concern for the most vulnerable, in particular the poor, Indigenous Peoples, and the voiceless. 

The conference was able to overcome the overwhelming sense of doom the issue of climate change so often carries. Celebrating the hope that we all hold onto, the desire for creating a better world, included songs, dances, stories as well as commitments to work together. As Olav Fyske of the World Council of Churches said in his addressI hope this seminar here in Colombia will be a stimulus to all of you, to Colombian churches, to CLAI (Latin American Council of Churches), to join the pilgrimage of justice and peace. As human beings we are all pilgrims in our lives, searching for meaning, for change, for hope. Our faith convictions express and nurture the hope for the future, for the next generations, for one earth and for one humanity.

On another note, the Latin American Council of Churches utilized the climate change seminar to initiate a new program in Colombia, working with Indigenous Peoples to teach the various member churches how to respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples. I was also invited to participate in this group. Throughout the days of the seminar, the group of Indigenous Peoples and myself grew close and are committed to continuing in the program. I look forward to this project and assisting it in whatever ways I am able to. 

A few of us from the Indigenous group, after a morning of discussing the new program. Photo by Ligia Valenzuela.