Biodiversity Online Meeting with Fr. Sean McDonagh
The enormous concern over the loss of biodiversity in the natural world and a call for churches to engage on the issue was explored in an online conference on 17 February. It was organized by the Livesimply group from St John Vianney parish in West Green, Diocese of Westminster, a Livesimply award-winning parish.
The speaker was eco-theologian Father Sean McDonagh, who is now based in Ireland but has worked in the Philippines for two decades, particularly with the T’boli tribal people. His 2004 book, “The Death of Life,” gave a prophetic warning about diminishing biodiversity. Around 70 attendees included the parish priest, Father Joe Ryan, parishioners, representatives of the National Justice and Peace Network from other dioceses – including Clifton, Hexham and Newcastle and Leeds – and international friends from as far away as Taiwan, the Australia and the United States. .
Father Sean spoke about the international meeting in Kunming, China, in a few months. This Conference of the Parties (COP15) offers opportunities to make connections between biodiversity and the issues raised during the climate change talks in Glasgow in November 2021 and with Pope Francis’ encyclical titled “Laudato Si – On Care for our Common Home”. It is hoped that strategies to stem the extinction crisis will be developed.
Some countries that are economically poor and highly susceptible to severe climate impacts are species-rich, such as the Philippines. Sean reported that Kew Gardens has information on 1.8 million species – but there could be 10 or 100 times that number, especially in the world’s diversity hotspots. Species are disappearing, largely due to habitat destruction, before they can be discovered. “We are experiencing the greatest extinction since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago,” he warned, “and the cause is human activity.” Sean presented frightening statistics: 24% of large animals are currently threatened with extinction and 30% of birds. Aquatic ecosystems are threatened and the oceans increasingly polluted. He underscored the importance of biodiversity for human food security and health, regardless of the right of other species to survive, which is a concern highlighted in the Philippine Bishops’ latest statement on ecology two weeks ago.
Sean hoped COP15 would get the same publicity and support as the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow last November. He himself engaged with the Irish government about its delegation to COP15 and urged participants to engage with representatives from their own countries. Columban JPIC at the international level is in talks with the UN coordinators and is requesting accreditation for the meeting.
Sean called on Christian churches to be sensitive to the challenge of mass extinction and justice for future generations. Stewardship is at the heart of the Christian tradition. “We need pro-life theology,” Sean said. He quoted the patron saint of Colombian missionaries, Saint Columban, who said: “If you want to know the Creator, learn about Creation”. Laudato Si’ highlighted this issue and its inclusion in Catholic social teaching in 2015. “The Church should be part of the debate,” he said.
Sean urged participants to address the issue of biodiversity around their parishes and to support environmental and justice groups such as the RSPB and Birdwatch Ireland, which protect birds. On advocacy, he suggested challenging chemical agriculture. He also asked, “how can we live more simply?” and “how can we better understand the systems of the Seasons and the Earth?” All this must be linked to prayer and liturgy. He called on parishes and Catholic organizations to work on the encyclical Laudato Si’ and reflect on the responses.
During the discussion, Colette Joyce of Westminster J&P reported that “for those who live in the south of England, we have an environmental network of southern dioceses which meets monthly for prayer, input from speakers on a range of topics related to creative care, discussion and mutual support, with an accompanying monthly newsletter.” It is open to all and includes diocesan and CAFOD staff as well as parishioners and clergy.
There was a general feeling that a system change is needed in the area of the economy and it would be great to see Church leaders speaking out on this, as Pope Francis has done. Such structural change is necessary to address both biodiversity and the climate crisis. “We must challenge an economic model based on relentless growth, consumption and profit” was a comment in the chat.
Daniel St Guillaume, Chairman of the Livesimply Group at West Green, chaired the meeting and explained afterwards that the presentation “reached an audience who may not have heard of biodiversity and how it affects our daily life”. He added that “Father Sean encouraged us to get out and spread the word in our parishes.”
Petition Healthy People, Healthy Planet: www.laudatosi.org/action/healthy-planet-healthy-people-petition/
The CAFOD livesimply price: https://cafod.org.uk/Campaign/LiveSimply-award
Columban Biodiversity Podcasts: https://columbancenter.org/jubileepocast
Colomban Laudato Si’ Study Guide:
Catholic concern for animals: https://catholic-animals.com
United Nations Convention on Biodiversity – www.cbd.int/
Key words: Biodiversity, Sean McDonagh, Ellen Teague, Columbans, Livesimply, St John Vianney
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