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Father Shay Cullen is an Irish Columban missionary who has worked in the Philippines since 1969. In 1974, he founded the Preda Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and children and campaigning for freedom from sex slavery and human trafficking.

‘Choose life, choose the future,’ Pope tells leaders at COP28

Pope Francis looks on during the weekly general audience on Nov. 8 at St Peter's square in The Vatican

Pope Francis looks on during the weekly general audience on Nov. 8 at St Peter's square in The Vatican. (Photo: AFP)

Published: December 05, 2023 12:14 PM GMT
In a powerful speech, Pope Francis asked world leaders if they were working for 'a culture of life or a culture of death?'

Pope Francis, representing the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics made a speech to the world leaders gathered at the UN climate summit COP28 in Dubai on Dec. 2. In a powerful speech read for him by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis referred to the growing crises facing the world by climate change and global warming due to toxic gases emitted by rich nations.

“The destruction of the environment is an offense against God, a sin that is not only personal but also structural, one that greatly endangers all human beings, especially the most vulnerable in our midst, and threatens to unleash a conflict between generations,” he told the world leaders, who began their gathering on Nov. 30.

The warming of the planet is a global social issue and one intimately related to the dignity of human life. The Pope challenged the world leaders by asking: “Are we working for a culture of life or a culture of death?”

“To all of you,” he said, “I make this heartfelt appeal: Let us choose life!  Let us choose the future!  May we be attentive to the cry of the earth, may we hear the plea of the poor, may we be sensitive to the hopes of the young and the dreams of children!  We have a grave responsibility: to ensure that they not be denied their future.”

He went on to remind delegates to get their priorities correct and to see where the blame for the destruction of the earth lies, “It is not with the poor but with the rich.

He asked them not to shift the blame onto the poor and high birth rates. “These are falsities that must be firmly dispelled.  It is not the fault of the poor, since almost half of our world that is more needy is responsible for scarcely 10 percent of toxic emissions, while the gap between the opulent few and the masses of the poor has never been so abysmal." 

The high birth rates among the poor are not the cause of world poverty and the abuse of resources. 

“Births are not a problem,” he said. "The cause of global warming is rooted in the excessive consumption of resources like the burning of fossil fuels by the greed and selfishness of the rich nations."

The poor suffer the most from the dramatic effects of climate change like the indigenous peoples, deforestation, hunger, water and food insecurity, and forced migration are the outcomes of such global inequality. The wealth that should be spent on human development and making peace should not be wasted on wars, he said.

Peace and care for creation are the most urgent issues, but both are linked. “How much energy is humanity wasting on the numerous wars presently in course, such as those in Israel and Palestine, in Ukraine, and many parts of the world: conflicts that will not solve problems but only increase them,” he asked.

He said various agreements and commitments made in the previous global environment gatherings “have been poorly implemented, due to the lack of suitable mechanisms for oversight, periodic review and penalties in cases of non-compliance."

"Now is the time no longer to postpone, but to ensure, and not merely to talk about the welfare of your children, your citizens, your countries, and our world,” he said.

He appealed to them to choose a culture of life, not death. .. “The destruction of the environment is an offense against God, a sin that is not only personal but also structural, one that greatly endangers all human beings, especially the most vulnerable in our midst, and threatens to unleash a conflict between generations.”

He wanted the world leaders to be attentive to the “cry of the earth and hear the plea of the poor” so that the world becomes “sensitive to the hopes of the young and the dreams of children!  We have a grave responsibility: to ensure that they not be denied their future.”

The COP28 conference concludes on Dec. 12 seeking ways to further promote a change from fossil fuel to renewable energy generation such as wind, solar, geo-terminal, biomass, and hydro, which do not give off CO2 emissions or other toxic gases that block the escape of heat into space but trap it and is like a blanket around the planet. 

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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