OTTAWA (CCN) — Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, president of Caritas Internationalis, said Holy See charitable agencies are urging global decision-makers to make binding agreements on climate change.
In an interview from New York City Sept. 26, where Tagle was participating in the United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development Sept. 25-27, the cardinal said he hoped Caritas and CIDSE (Co-opération Internationale pour le Développement et la Solidarité or International Co-operation for Development and Solidarity) could “challenge the stakeholders and those who have authority to influence the decision-makers to exercise some political will, to move from just abstractions and rhetoric to implementation” that would include monitoring.
“That’s what the Holy Father wants us to do,” said the cardinal, who heads the Holy See federation of charities from around the world that includes the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP), which also had representatives in New York.
The high-level meetings were an opportunity to “reinforce some of the points raised by the Holy Father” in his address to the UN Sept. 25. “This is a followup, and since it is a more restricted group, there might be even more opportunities for interaction,” Tagle said.
The talks on the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) are meant not only to discuss, but “to act and to learn how to set up mechanisms for monitoring the action,” the cardinal said. “And finally we also want to achieve a more intercultural and inter-religious approach to the issue of climate change.”
“Yes, we will be coming in as the Catholic Church and Catholic organizations, but we want to engage non-Catholics and non-Christians in the whole discussion and action,” he said.
Tagle said the church organizations face a challenge to keep Pope Francis’ “integral ecological approach” that keeps “all these strands together — charity, justice, human dignity and caring for the environment.”
Using the pope’s example, Caritas and CIDSE bring to the table their expertise that “is the combination of faith and existential experience,” he said.
“We are not coming into the discussion pretending to be scientists, while we rely on scientific studies,” Tagle said. “But we bring our experience.”
“I come from the Philippines,” he said. “We get 20 to 26 typhoons a year. We know the poor are the most vulnerable. We have a good number of internal refugees, Filipinos who are driven away from their villages and municipalities, towns and cities, devastated by climate change.”
“What happens in the environment definitely impacts on human lives, so our caring for human beings, our defence of their human dignity necessarily includes our caring for the environment, for what happens to the environment definitely impacts on their lives,” he said.
The plight of the poor, who are most impacted by severe climatic events, remains central to the church’s concerns. “There is no dichotomy between caring for human beings and also caring for creation.”
Asked how Caritas can avoid being co-opted by the push for population control, abortion and same-sex marriage that some non-religious advocates of SDGs and climate change agreements also have on their agendas — the “ideological colonization” Pope Francis warned against in his UN speech, Tagle said: “I think first we should allow people, especially the poor, to be heard.”
While acknowledging that some assistance packages also push population control, and abortion, Tagle said people need to be asked “what models of development do they want for themselves.”
“We must not impose on them models of development,” he said. When he visits the poor of the Philippines, they “consider their children as their riches.”
“So this model of development that tells them you will be better off without children, that, for them, is an ideological imposition,” he said. “We should listen to the poor and we will see their vision is quite different from those who are proposing development packages to them.”
“We should organize the grassroots to express their faith, to express their views, to express their dreams, and we for our part to encourage all the visions, and shapers and decision-makers in the world to be humble enough to listen to the voice of the people, not to drown them,” he said. “And this is part of social justice that the poor are not just beneficiaries or recipients of the benevolence of others.”
“The poor should also be our teachers,” he said, noting he was including indigenous peoples. “They should be given the chance to share with us their wisdom, maybe they possess key to true development.”
For Tagle, the right relationships among human beings with creation is clearly connected to the Gospel, and a right relationship to God in Jesus Christ.
He said he has seen many who work for social justice “are so animated and zealous” in trying to alleviate the effects of poverty and injustice, they sometimes “think it is a purely human project that we can achieve by our own planning and our own initiatives.”
“Without destroying or killing the initiative and creativity, I think part of the wisdom of the Christian faith (is that) before we even had the desire to help the poor, God hears the cry of the poor,” Tagle said. “It is God who has the preferential love for the poor.”
“We see this in Scriptures,” he said. “We see this in Jesus. God became poor in Jesus.”
Jesus’ solidarity with the poor makes our involvement “not just something pragmatic, not just something functional, it is faith-based,” he said. “To say I believe in God in the Creator; to say I believe in Jesus Christ who became human; to say I believe in the Holy Spirit who binds us all, these are the foundations of our work for justice and love.”
“That’s why Pope Francis reminds us that social action really is theological,” Tagle said. “It is an expression of our belief in the Trinity, in the incarnate Word and in the Spirit that continues to blow almightily in the earth and in humanity.”