Bishop of Broome, the Most Reverend Christopher Saunders, joined a panel with two young Catholic leaders, challenging delegates to protect the natural environment on the first day of the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Perth today.
The session, entitled ‘You’ve been to the climate protests. Now what?’ was led by Dr Nathan Leber, Justice Educator with Caritas Australia, who spoke on the need for young Catholics to be motivated by love for creation and Pope Francis’ Laudato Si encyclical.
Dr Leber said that while young people could intellectualise the climate movement, real progress on countering climate change would only come when “we feel it, when it becomes part of us”.
“We need to change not minds, but hearts – we have to get people on board, and we do that one way, by changing one heart at a time,”
Dr Leber laid the foundations for the session with a look at attitudes towards the environments in the Genesis creation stories, and the idea of humans ruling over creation.
“We want you to be Mufasa, not Scar,” was his choice of pop-culture reference to illustrate responsible leadership, drawing a laugh from the room.
Emily Hanson, a Year 11 student from Gilroy Catholic College in Castle Hill NSW, followed on from Dr Leber’s talk with her story of becoming actively involved in environmental activism.
She shared about how her outlook on life changed after a school trip to Alice Springs, where she was inspired by the understanding of and connection to the natural environment of Aboriginal people she met.
Returning back to NSW, she got involved in pushing for sustainability initiatives at her school and began a local land care group.
Challenging everyone to do what they could, she pointed out ways to become more sustainably-minded in everyday life, touching on fast fashion, reduced consumption and sustainable choices in transport.
Emily was then joined on stage by Bishop Saunders, as well as Clare Vernon, the Youth Coordinator for Catholic Earthcare Australia for the panel discussion with questions from Dr Leber and a couple of challenging queries from the floor.
Asked about the Church’s role in environmental conservation, Bishop Saunders said the “Church had a prophetic role to play”.
“Our whole world changed with the industrial revolution… it changed the world enourmously,” he said.
“The harm to the environment is something we need to apply our science to, our heads and our hearts to solve,”
Reflecting on his time as the Chair of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, Bishop Saunders said that over time he had come to see the worth in environmental concerns voiced by people he initially dismissed because of their political stances; he also spoke about his own advocacy for marine environments in Broome that had faced development for the resources sector.
Of Laudato Si Bishop Saunders said it was “the first time I’ve read an encyclical cover-to-cover, then picked it up and started again,”
Ms Vernon responded to a question about working with a range of opinions and stances in a contentious space, referencing her journey from carrying placards at rallies, studying environmental science and now working with Catholic Earthcare Australia.
“If you want to make a real difference, you have to be able to work with all sides of politics,” she said.
“If you can step back, work with everyone and get concesus, you achieve so much more”.