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Faith Leaders Hope to Sow Seeds of Change for Climate

  • Rosanne Skirble

A climate initiative in the Catholic Church has engaged more than 50 countries in a fast for the planet.

While it is common for Catholics to fast in the days leading up to Easter, this year's Lenten Fast for Climate Justice is calling on all people of faith to refrain from food and from the fossil fuels that are warming the planet.

The United States was the 25th nation to join the fast. Theologians and lay activists from different religious traditions joined in Washington on Monday to proclaim climate change as a moral, ethical and spiritual issue.

The prayer vigil on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol was within earshot of Congress. “We want to get their attention,” said Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network, the group that organized the event.

“We're also hoping to get our faith leaders — our priests and our rabbis — to start speaking from the pulpits with their prophetic voices in talking about how this is the most important issue,” he said.

Effort "to open our hearts"

Rabbi David Shneyer of the Am Kolel Jewish Renewal Center in Montgomery County, Maryland, cupped his hand in a fist over his heart, following a tradition practiced on the Jewish holy fast day of Yom Kippur to ask for forgiveness from sins.

“It is kind of like knocking on the door of our hearts, to open our hearts,” he said.

Others followed as the rabbi read a list of wrongs against the Earth:

“For the wrong of filling land and ocean with filth, toxin and garbage; and for the wrong of extinguishing forever wondrous species, which you saved from the waters of the flood; and for the wrong of razing forests, trees, rivers and mountains,” Shneyer read.

Next, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, leader of the Hip Hop Caucus, a national nonpartisan group working to engage youths in civic and service projects, stepped before the crowd, wearing a black cap that read "Divest." It was a reminder of the threat that fossil fuels play in warming the planet.

In spirited remarks, Yearwood argued that climate skeptics could be a catalyst for positive change.

“On this day I call upon all the climate deniers, because you can actually be the rock in which this movement can be built upon," he said.

Echoing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s "I Have a Dream" speech, Yearwood described a future that is no longer dependent on fossil fuels. That future is in our hands, he said. “Republican and Democrat, black and white, male and female, and they will rise up and say that we are fossil free at last, fossil free at last, thank God almighty, we are fossil free at last!”

Symbolic finale

The vigil ends with each person taking a handful of dirt to spread on the Capitol grounds — an effort to sow the seeds of change, said Patrick Carolan of the Franciscan Action Network. (Credit: Elizabeth Pfotzer)

The vigil ends with each person taking a handful of dirt to spread on the Capitol grounds — an effort to sow the seeds of change, said Patrick Carolan of the Franciscan Action Network. (Credit: Elizabeth Pfotzer)

The vigil ended with a contemplative moment, as each person scattered a handful of fresh dirt on the Capitol grounds. Carolan said he hoped the symbolic gesture would sow the seeds of change.

“The whole Earth is at stake, and we have a very short period of time," he said. "Years ago, we talked about sustainability. And then we talked about adaptability. And now we’re taking about survivability.”

The Lenten Fast for Climate Justice was sponsored by the Global Catholic Climate Movement, an international coalition of Catholic organizations and individuals that seeks to raise awareness about climate change. It was held as part of a 365-day Fast for the Climate.

Young people, environmentalists and people of faith in the global movement have been fasting one day a month since December to try to bring attention to climate change.

The campaign will culminate in December at the U.N. climate summit in Paris, where world leaders are expected to sign a new treaty to address global warming.

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