The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Catholic institutions and communities from all over the world celebrated the culmination of the month-long Season of Creation with the largest joint announcement on Tuesday of their decision to divest from fossil fuels.
The Catholic communities committing to switch the management of their finances away from fossil fuel extraction include: The Jesuits in English Canada; the Federation of Christian Organisations for the International Voluntary Service (FOCSIV) in Italy; the Presentation Society of Australia and Papua New Guinea; SSM Health in the United States; the Diocese of the Holy Spirit of Umuarama in the Brazilian state of Paraná; the Missionary Society of St. Columban, based in Hong Kong and with a global presence in 14 countries; and the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco – Daughters of Mary Help of Christians in Milan and Naples (Italy).
Commitments range from divesting from coal, as is the case of the US healthcare institution SSM, to redirecting the divested funds into clean, renewable energy investments, as FOCSIV has announced. As for the Brazilian Diocese of Umuarama, it is both the first diocese and the first Latin American institution to commit to divest from fossil fuels; the Diocese is taking steps to become low-carbon and is part of COESUS, a coalition fighting fracking in Latin America.
The fossil fuel divestment movement was acknowledged during the presentation of Pope Francis’s message on the World Day of Prayer for Creation by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, when he pointed out that Pope Francis suggests that “social pressure – including from boycotting certain products – can force businesses to consider their environmental footprint and patterns of production. The same logic animates the fossil fuel divestment movement.”
Major Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican organisations came together between September 1st (World Day of Prayer for Creation) and October 4th to observe the Season of Creation, calling on the 2.2 billion Christians worldwide to pray and take action to care for the Earth.
The urgent need to stop all new fossil fuel infrastructure was highlighted by a recent report which found that the potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas and coal in the world’s currently operating fields and mines would increase our planet’s temperature beyond 2°C by the end of this century, and even with no coal, the reserves in oil and gas fields alone would cause warming beyond 1.5ºC.
The campaign to divest from fossil fuels is the fastest growing divestment campaign in history, according to a report by the University of Oxford. Up to date, nearly 600 institutions worth over $3.4 trillion globally have announced divestment commitments.
This is the latest in a row of recent announcements involving faith communities and climate change. Earlier this month, it was announced that over 3,000 UK churches had switched or planned to move to green energy in 2016; Morocco, where COP22 will gather this December, will give 600 mosques a green makeover by March 2019: in September, the Indian government asked ashrams to invest in solar power; and just last week theAnglican Church of Southern Africa passed a motion during its provincial Synod to divest from fossil fuels.
“Climate change is already affecting poor and marginalized communities globally, through drought, rising sea levels, famine and extreme weather. We are called to take a stand,” says Peter Bisson sj, Provincial of the Jesuits in English Canada.
“This announcement is for FOCSIV an important commitment on climate justice: we strongly believe that in order to fight climate change we need to act at the root causes removing financial support at fossil fuel industry and reinvest it in renewable. VIDES, a catholic NGO member of FOCSIV, has positively welcomed the message of Laudato Si’ and Divestment, obtaining the important announcement of the Italian Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco. We will continue in addressing religious institutes: together, as Catholics, we have the moral duty of being the proofs of a concrete commitment to stop the climate crisis and promote environmental justice,” according to Gianfranco Cattai, President of FOCSIV.
“The Presentation Society of Australia and Papua New Guinea has made the commitment to work towards divestment of investments that are at the expense of the environment, human rights, the public safety and local communities. Presentation Sisters in Australia and Papua New Guinea believe that the healing of the planet will only come about with care for Earth and the whole community of life. We are one planet and one Earth community and we have a common destiny,” submits Sr Marlette Black, pbvm, President of the Presentation Society of Australia and Papua New Guinea.
“As a Mission-based Catholic organization, SSM Health has always been deeply aware of the importance of caring for our natural resources. Our renewed commitment to the environment keeps us consistent in word and deed with the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, our founding congregation, and with the climate change encyclical released by Pope Francis in June 2015,” contends William P. Thompson, SSM Health President/Chief Executive Officer.
“As Bishop of Umuarama Diocese, in communion with the Catholic Church and attentive to the calls of the Gospel, I clearly understand the message of Pope Francis in Laudato Si’, which calls us to care Common House through initiatives that protect all forms of life. We can not accommodate and continue allowing economic interests that seek exorbitant profits before the well being of people, to destroy biodiversity and ecosystems, nor continue dictating our energy model based on fossil fuels. We know that Brazil has abundant sources of clean and renewable energy that do not harm our common home. Therefore, I believe that the proposal to turn the Diocese of Umuarama into low-carbon is a practical way to achieve what Laudato Si’ calls for,” stresses Dom Frei João Mamede Filho, Bishop of the Diocese of Umuarama, Brazil.
“Columbans have a long history of commitment to caring for the Earth as part of our missionary identity. We see our Socially and Environmentally Responsible Investment policy as an important expression of that commitment and therefore are exploring ways to direct our investments towards funds which respond positively to our issue priorities such as renewable energy, community-based microenterprise, and peace initiatives,” Fr. Kevin O’Neill, Columban Superior General says.
“All Bishops Conferences of the world called for ‘an end to the fossil fuel era’ in a powerful statement last year. The divestment announcement of these Catholic institutions simply is an update to their investment policies following the Bishops’ appeal,” discloses Tomás Insua, Global Catholic Climate Movement Global Coordinator.
“The diversity and global distribution of the organisations taking part in this joint announcement show the leadership of the Catholic communities in going beyond prayers and taking concrete action in response to the repeated calls of Pope Francis to preserve our common home. We celebrate this announcement and hope that the message it conveys reaches people of all faiths and inspires more Catholic institutions, including the Vatican itself, to take away the harmful influence of the fossil fuel industry’s ambition over our economies and societies, and push for clean and just energy sources for all humanity,” adds Yossi Cadan, 350.org Senior Divestment Campaigner.
“For religious people, the aim of divestment is to bankrupt the fossil fuel industry morally, not financially. Hopefully, because of their duty to manage their resources, these companies will invest in renewable forms of energy,” Columban Fr. Sean McDonagh, leading international eco-theologian, notes.
“As Catholic Christians we know that our participation matters. It matters morally; it matters to God. Divestment from companies that continue to mine fossil fuels is a necessary and significant step toward building a world which is powered by the gifts God gave – like the sun and the wind. We can turn the course of our momentum away from greenhouse gasses and death and toward creativity, clean energy sources, and hope,” says Nancy M Rourke, PhD, Associate Professor and Director of Catholic Studies Programme at Canisius College.