ROME – Though absent from the COP-28 summit in Dubai due to ongoing concerns for his health, Pope Francis sent a message for the inauguration of the first-ever Faith Pavilion at a United Nations climate event, stressing the responsibility of religious leaders in caring for the planet.
In prepared remarks read aloud by Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin on Sunday, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Pope Francis thanked the various representatives present for the Dec. 3 inauguration of the COP-28 Faith Pavilion, including the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, and the President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, for their presence.
The Faith Pavilion, the pope said, “is the first of its kind at the heart of a COP, and it shows that all authentic religious beliefs are a source of encounter and action.”
“It is important to see ourselves, beyond our differences, as brothers and sisters in the one human family, and, as believers, to remind ourselves and the world that, as sojourners on this earth, we have a duty to protect our common home,” he said.
Religions are a reminder that humanity is finite and has limits, Francis said, insisting that life must be protected and that this is done by “opposing the rapacious illusion of omnipotence that is devastating our planet.”
“That insatiable desire for power wells up whenever we consider ourselves lords of the world, whenever we live as though God did not exist and, as a result, end up prey to passing things,” he said.
When this happens, human beings become “mere commodities, desensitized, incapable of sorrow and compassion, self-absorbed and, turning our backs on morality and prudence, we destroy the very sources of life,” the pope said.
This, he said, “is why the problem of climate change is also a religious problem: its roots lie in the creature’s presumption of self-sufficiency.”
Calling attendees to action, Pope Francis said there is an urgent need to act “for the sake of the environment” and that it is not enough to simply increase spending. Rather, “We need to change our way of life and thus educate everyone to sober and fraternal lifestyles.”
“This is an essential obligation for religions, which are called to teach contemplation, since creation is not only an ecosystem to preserve, but also a gift to embrace,” he said, saying, “A world poor in contemplation will be a world polluted in soul, a world that will continue to discard people and produce waste.”
When prayer is lacking, the world will be filled with words but “bereft of compassion and tears,” and it will live off “a materialism made of money and weapons,” he said.
Pope Francis also said that peace and the care of creation “are interdependent,” and lamented that the many wars and conflicts ravaging the world are destroying the environment and dividing nations.
“A home is only livable when a climate of peace reigns within,” he said, saying religions have a specific role to play in peacekeeping.
“Please, let there be no inconsistency in this regard,” he said. “May our actions not contradict the words we speak; may we not merely speak about peace, but take a stand against those who claim to be believers yet fuel hatred and do not oppose violence.”
Pope Francis was scheduled to visit Dubai in the United Arab Emirates Dec. 1-3 to attend the COP-28 United Nations climate summit, becoming the first pope to ever attend the gathering.
While there, he was expected to hold over 30 bilateral meetings with various heads of state and representatives of various organizations and join in the inauguration of the Faith Pavilion, marking the first-ever interreligious platform at the event.
However, the pope cancelled the visit after being advised to do so by his doctors due to what Francis himself has described as a “very acute, infectious bronchitis” causing lung inflammation, for which he is receiving antibiotic treatment.
Parolin traveled to COP-28 in his place along with Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue.
Both Parolin and Ayuso were present for the Dec. 3 inauguration of the Faith Pavilion and the signing of a document called the “Confluence of Conscience” declaration alongside Al-Tayyeb and Zayed Al Nahyan.
The Faith Pavilion, established at Expo City in Dubai, is a project of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development (ICSD), the Muslim Council of Elders, and the UN Environment Program’s Faith for Earth Coalition, among others.
It is intended to serve as a global platform to promote religious engagement and interfaith dialogue in the implementation of measures to combat climate change. It also serves to draw together various religious leaders and representatives to develop strategies for addressing global challenges such as environmental justice through the exchange of proposals and ideas across nations.
The COP-28 UAE team posted a brief video of the inauguration on social media platform X, previously known as Twitter, saying the Pavilion “brings together religious leaders, officials, scientists and more to discuss the role of faith communities and religious institutions in addressing the climate crisis.”
In a brief Dec. 3 video message for the inauguration ceremony, Pope Francis told attendees that he was sorry not to be with them and thanked the various interfaith leaders and representatives who attended.
“For the first time you have established a religious pavilion as part of a COP,” he said, saying this act “testifies to the willingness to work together.”
Amid present global circumstances, “the world needs alliances that are not against someone, but in favor of everyone,” the pope said, stressing the importance for religions to work together “without falling into the trap of syncretism.”
Religious must set a good example in this regard, joining together “not for their own interests or those of one party, but for the interests of our world,” he said, saying two of the most important global issues are peace and the climate.
“As religious representatives, let us set an example to show that change is possible and bear witness to respectful and sustainable lifestyles. With a loud voice, let us implore leaders of nations that our common home be preserved,” he said.
Pope Francis voiced solidarity with young people and the poor, asking that for the sake of their future and the future of the world, “let us safeguard creation and protect our common home; let us live in peace and promote peace!”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen