Forty religious leaders join Pope Francis in a plea for the planet

By Loup Besmond de Senneville | Vatican City for La Croix

Leaders from the world’s major faiths gather at the Vatican and call for an immediate end “of threats to our common home”

It has been a very long time since such a gathering of high-level religious leaders from all over the world has taken place in the Vatican. But some 40 of them gathered on Monday morning in the grand Hall of Benedictions above the portico of St. Peter’s Basilica. On this Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, they signed a text that calls on governments to take urgent action to limit global warming.

The faith-based initiative came less than four weeks before the opening of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow. Pope Francis was joined by Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and other faith leaders in signing a strongly worded, seven-page appeal “to raise awareness of the unprecedented challenges that threaten us and life on our beautiful common home, the Earth”. The appeal strongly emphasizes the extremely fragile condition in which the planet now finds itself. “Nature is a gift, but also a life-giving force without which we cannot exist,” it says.

The threats facing our common home
 “Faith and science are essential pillars of human civilization,” the religious leaders point out. And because of this, they say it is imperative to “address the threats facing our common home” and take seriously the warnings from scientists. 

The United Kingdom and Italy launched the faith-based initiative launched last January and the Holy See lent its support. “Global temperatures have already risen to the point where the planet is warmer than at anytime in the last 200,000 years,” the religious leaders warn. It is because of this dramatic situation that they are appealing to political leaders who will be meeting in early November in Glasgow for COP26. “Now is the time for urgent, radical and responsible action,” they say in their appeal. They are also calling for an economic paradigm shift.”

But we also need to change the narrative of development and to adopt a new kind of economics: one that places human dignity at its center and that is inclusive,” the religious leaders insist.bThey advocate for an economy “that is ecologically friendly, caring for the environment, and not exploiting it; one based not on endless growth”.

The absence of the Dalai Lama
The faith leaders are especially encouraging civil society, financial institutions and educators. The appeal echoes a number of concerns and expressions the pope has often repeated, especially the need to address the “throwaway culture”. “Humanity must rethink its perspectives and values, rejecting consumerism,” the text says. As impressive as the appeal itself, was the closed door gathering of the many religious leaders who signed it. No press was allowed, but the Vatican provided a video stream of the event in realtime. But one major religious figure conspicuously absent was the Dalai Lama. Organizers did not invite Tibet’s spiritual leader, undoubtedly because they did not want to aggravate relations with China.

Other prominent individuals at the pope’s side included the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al Tayeb; the patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew; Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church, Martin Junge, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation; and Rabbi Noam Marans of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations.

An appeal to young Muslims
Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. Ahmed el-Tayeb By Arbeitsbesuch Ägyptencropped by Gugganij – extracted from another file: Ahmed el-Tayeb Sebastian Kurz May 2015 (17963337671).jpg, CC BY 2.0,

The religious leaders were given two minutes to speak, allowing each of them the opportunity to emphasize what they considered to be the most important. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Justin Welby, called for a reform of the global taxation system to promote “green activities”, and Metropolitan Hilarion said he hoped for “repentance and responsibility”. “I ask all young Muslims and all believers to be ready to fight against any action that would degrade the environment,” said the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. “Taking responsibility in this crisis is a religious duty,” he told them.

For his part, the pope stressed that “COP26 in Glasgow represents an urgent summons to provide effective responses to the unprecedented ecological crisis and the crisis of values that we are presently experiencing”. He said this challenge is all the more important because “everything in our world is profoundly interrelated”. That’s a central concept in his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’ and the pope will have the opportunity to repeat the message in the coming weeks. He is expected to travel to Glasgow on November 1 to address the heads of state and government who will be gathered at COP26.

With permission from La Croix


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