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Benedict Ayodi Addresses the Climate Action Assembly II

Br. Benedict Ayodi addresses the Climate Action Assembly II at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

Good morning, and Jambo, Hakuna Matata, and so humbled to be here today and to stand before you at this Parliament of the World’s Religions. I’d like to start with a story. In Lampedusa, a small island on the Mediterranean in the province of Sicily in Italy, I happened to meet a young man by the name of Monsei. Moshe, who had just arrived by boat from Eritrea in East Africa. 

As part of my pastoral service as a Franciscan, I had a mission of receiving and giving spiritual counseling and comfort to traumatized refugees arriving on boats from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Mose happened to tell me of his harrowing experience on the sea. At around 2 a.m. in the early morning hours, the overcrowded fishing boat drifted less than half a mile off of Lampedusa. For the estimated 300 people parked on board the boat the twinkling lights of the island signified the end of a long and difficult journey. Each had paid US $1,500 to the smugglers to make the crossing. With the land in sight, they steered and began excitedly to prepare for their arrival in Europe. For them, freedom was here at last. They hoped it would be the end of their suffering. No more drought and famine. No more oppression and lack of human rights. No more conflict and war. They sang freedom at last. 

After 36 hours on the sea, and wait for the Coast Guard to tow them on shore. This allows the crew to disappear into the crowd and avoid a race for people smuggling. Below deck was crowded and hot, with too many seasick passengers crammed into the confined space, including women and children. But fate was not on their side. The engine of the boat had stalled, now drifting with engine off. The boat’s pump was no longer active, and seawater began to pour in. Tragedy indeed befell them. 

More than 250 people drowned that day. A few survived to tell the story, including this young man I was meeting, Moshe, from Eritrea. 

This is just one story of climate-induced migration in the Horn of Africa. The continent has contributed less than 4% to the total greenhouse gas emissions but has already suffered serious consequences. consequences from biodiversity laws to reduce food production. This, as you know, is in the backdrop of an economy emerging from the ravages of COVID-19 and effects of historical development deficits in many global south countries.

Vanessa Nakate, a climate activist from Uganda, once said, “Climate change is more than statistics.” It’s more than data points. It’s more than net zero targets. It’s about people. It’s about the people who are being impacted right now, the vulnerable, the people living on the margins, the power to influence the future. Now is not the time to despair, but to act. 

The time to act St. Francis of Assisi would humbly proclaim, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” Where there is hatred, let me so love. Where there’s injury, pardon. Where there’s doubt, faith. Where there’s despair, hope. Franciscans, internationally, participated in a broad civil society collusion that advocated for recognizing the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment by the United Nations General Assembly. The question, thank you, the question before us as people of faith and working in the margins of society. Society is how we translate this resolution into societal transformation. Given our moral and spiritual charisma and the large network we have in the grassroots, we not only influence national policies through our local initiatives but also promote and enhance healthy and sustainable living. We are driven towards this work long before the current climate crisis, St. Francis of Assisi wrote Laudato Si, “Praise to you.” This was the concept of common creaturehood under one God.

We therefore view the environment as a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. The urgent challenge to protect our common home says Pope Francis in the encyclical Laudato Si, “includes a concern to bring a whole human family together to seek sustainable and integral development.” This is true through such organizations as the Laudato Si’ Movement and many others that are advocating against the ECOP, the East African Oil Pipeline that is to move from Uganda to Tanzania. Indeed, at this time of worldwide transformation and considering the example of St. Francis, we are all challenged to reflect on our lifestyle, personal, communal, and social-political, and deepen our commitment to living solidarity–solidarity with those who are most impoverished of humanity and of all the rest of creation. 

This is a call for courage and unity, where every woman and man has opportunity and skills to contribute, especially the most marginalized, where sustainability means much more than green laws and policies. It means new ways of thinking and behaving as global. Thank you very much.

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