Vatican makes moral case for supporting people displaced by climate change

Local Catholic groups are invited in a new Vatical document to establish ‘solidarity networks’ to ensure migrants’ dignity ‘in all phases of displacement.’

Rescue boats fill a flooded street as flood victims are evacuated as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise on Aug. 28, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Pope Francis and other Vatican leaders reiterated the Catholic Church’s commitment to “eco-justice” in a new document on Tuesday (March 30) addressing the growing number of people being displaced by climate change and calling on the church to take an active role in this “profoundly moral issue.”

“We are one planet, one human family and as brothers and sisters we must look out for each other. I don’t think a moral argument needs to be much more complicated than that,” said Cardinal Michael Czerny, who heads the section on migrants and refugees at the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The cardinal’s remarks came during the presentation of “Pastoral Orientations on Climate Displaced People,” which offers data and insights for Catholic communities and dioceses on how to address the growing challenges of the climate crisis.

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The document, which includes a preface from the pope, lays out ways to support migrants and integrate them in their countries of arrival. 

“Besides the accompaniment of the church, we very much hope for and seek a response from the international community to recognize the shared responsibility for those brothers and sisters forced to flee because of the climate crisis,” Czerny said.

In the first half of 2020, of the 14.6 million displaced people globally, 9.8 million were displaced by droughts, floods and other cataclysmic events, according to the document. It also reports that 253.7 million people were displaced by climate disasters between 2008 and 2018, suggesting that the number will grow in the next 10 to 40 years.

The climate crisis is not just a matter of data; it has a “human face,” said the Rev. Fabio Baggio, undersecretary at the Vatican’s migrants and refugees task force.

The document presented Tuesday was written with input from local churches and religious organizations, and some clergy and lay Catholics were included in the news conference to talk about their experiences.

“Climate change isn’t a hypothetical threat,” said Archbishop Claudio Dalla Zuanna, speaking at the news conference from the Archdiocese of Beira in Mozambique, whose long coastline has been hit by cyclones, flooding and heat waves in recent years. “It’s already a reality that requires immediate action also in creating the conditions to welcome people who are displaced by the growing number of catastrophes.”

Thirty-two-year-old Mozambican Maria Madalena Issau spoke about her grueling experience in camps for the displaced not far from the city of Beira, having lost her home to the 2020 cyclones.

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Local Catholic groups are invited in the document to accompany and support displaced people and establish “solidarity networks” to ensure their dignity “in all phases of displacement,” while young people are charged with being “protagonists” of the global efforts to counter climate change.

“This is the work the Lord asks now of us, and there is great joy in it,” Francis wrote. “We are not going to get out of crises like climate or COVID-19 by hunkering down in individualism but only by ‘being many together’, by encounter and dialogue and cooperation.”

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