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Pacific Catholic leader to speak on the poor, climate change and the threat of rising tides

Climate action: A coastal scene in Kiribati. Rising sea levels are threatening to sink Kiribati’s land area and ultimately displace its people. Photos: Caritas

A CHURCH leader who has witnessed Pacific villagers forced from their coastal homes because of rising sea levels is to celebrate Mass in Brisbane next month, and will speak about the poor, the vulnerable and the challenges of climate change.

Suva Archbishop Peter Loy Chong, who is president of the Oceania Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences, will concelebrate the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation at St Stephen’s Cathedral on September 1, marking the start of the Season of Creation.

As a leader in the Pacific, Archbishop Chong is calling for ecological action and wants Catholics to get involved.

Rising tides a ‘matter of survival’

He describes his advocacy as “a question of respect for God and his creation and alleviating the pain of those who suffer”.

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need last year he stressed rising tides was “not just a random event”, it was now “a matter of survival”.

“It is about our homes. Many of them will be under water in 50 years’ time,” Archbishop Chong said.

“People living in 34 coastal villages in Fiji face upheavals that will force them to relocate their homes, due to the rise in sea level.”

Speaking of Fiji’s largest island Viti Levu he described widespread environmental destruction with trees cut down and rivers polluted.

Archbishop Chong was one of six presidents of continental bishops’ conferences who signed a statement in October 2018 calling for immediate and ambitious action by countries globally to keep their Paris Agreement commitments.

He has joined with other Pacific political, Church and community leaders in calling on developed countries like Australia to take action to reduce carbon emissions significantly and quickly so that the global temperature rise could be limited to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

The archbishop has even written lyrics for a song of lament for climate change survivors.

In Brisbane, Archbishop Chong’s presence to mark the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation will add weight to the start of the Season of Creation, an ecumenical celebration which runs until the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, October 4. 

Following the Mass, people will be encouraged to continue the celebration with a picnic in the grounds of the cathedral.

Caring for our common home

Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission executive officer Peter Arndt said the Mass would also launch the Living Laudato Si’ initiative for the archdiocese. 

Laudato Si’ is the name of an encyclical released by Pope Francis three years ago in which he addresses climate change issues and calls for an “ecological conversion”. 

“Parishes, schools and agencies around the archdiocese will be invited to celebrate the Season of Creation in a range of ways in Masses, special services, events and actions,” Mr Arndt, who is also a member of the Archdiocesan Living Laudato Si’ Steering Group, said.

“Brisbane’s Archdiocesan Living Laudato Si’ Steering Group suggested that Archbishop (Mark) Coleridge invite Archbishop Chong because he can speak to us with authority about the perspective of poor and vulnerable peoples in relation to climate change. 

“Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, invites us to listen and to care for not only the earth, but also the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet – people who face the biggest climate challenges and who have the least capacity to respond.

“As Christians, we cannot just look after ourselves and ignore the plight of those whose problems are much greater.”

“We need to listen to the concerns of our neighbours in the Pacific so we can understand the problems they are facing and learn how we can support them.

“It will be a great privilege to hear from someone who is knowledgeable about Laudato Si’ and the Pope’s call for us to seek an ecological conversion, but who also knows first-hand what people in the Pacific are facing right now.

“We hope that the archbishop’s visit will lead to an on-going commitment to dialogue and collaboration on climate action between the Church in Brisbane and in the Pacific.”

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