Faith groups hold vigil after Pope Francis calls for climate action
on September 25, 2015
As the sun set on the Oakland Hills behind Skyline United Church of Christ on Wednesday evening, Reverend Laurie Manning led a congregation in an evening of music, meditation and prayer to celebrate Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States and support his call to action on climate change.
The gathering of the interfaith prayer service convened a diverse crowd, including Catholics, Unitarian Universalists, Humanists and members of environmental groups such as 350.org, an international environmental organization that aims to raise awareness about climate change. Attendees participated in the service by reading poems, singing hymns, and reading excerpts of Pope Francis’ encyclical, a papal letter that addressed climate change and was sent to all bishops in the Roman Catholic Church.
“Everyone’s gifts, all faiths, are needed to heal our common home,” Manning said in her sermon to acknowledge the various faiths of her attendees. After the service, attendees wrote “thank you notes” to Pope Francis on Post-Its and placed them on a letter board. One read: “You have inspired me to go plant trees in East Oakland.”
The event was planned and sponsored by a local chapter of the California Interfaith Power & Light, a nationwide network of faith congregations committed to fighting global warming. It was one of many climate vigils that Interfaith Power & Light helped to coordinate throughout the country in response to Francis’ first visit to the United States this week.
“We found that Pope Francis is really giving a lot of energy and momentum to people who have been working on [this issue] for a long time,” said Will Scott, program director of the California chapter of the interfaith network.
After Pope Francis issued his encyclical in June, Scott was a key leader in starting a local, interfaith study group, which was held at congregations throughout the Bay Area. Many of Wednesday’s attendees participated in the group.
In his encyclical, the Pope framed climate change as a moral issue and as scientifically indisputable. “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together,” he wrote in the letter. “We cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation.”
Scott and many of the attendees saw the encyclical as groundbreaking for the way in which it tied climate change to human dignity, making it a human rights issue. Attendee Meredith Alexander applauded Pope Francis’ effort to focus not just on the science, but also on the human relationship to climate change. “I’m an environmentalist because I love people,” Alexander said.
A few attendees worried that the attention to climate change comes too late to make a difference, but the predominant tone of the evening was hopeful. Manning said she wanted Skyline to become “a green sanctuary” and keep up the momentum in climate change. In October, Skyline plans to host Rabbi Michael Lerner, activist and Editor-In-Chief of Tikkun Magazine, before a screening for a film on fracking, which is shorthand for a kind of drilling used to recover gas and oil from rock, often resulting in significant environmental damage.
Through events like this and the vigil on Wednesday, Manning said she hopes to build community among people who are passionate about the environment. “The worship service is over,” Reverend Manning concluded at the end of her sermon, “ but the mission has just begun.”
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