Interfaith dialogue urges pro-environment, pro-poor actions 

May 25, 2022

Faith leaders and environmental defenders called for empowering communities and embracing the poor during an interfaith dialogue held at the Manila Cathedral on May 24. 

The event was part of the week-long celebration to mark the seventh year anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical letter “Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home,”, which tackles the root of the ecological crisis and how to address it.

“There is a greater need to understand what our responsibility is to Mother Nature,” said Kidapawan Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, national director of Caritas Philippines. 

The urgency of addressing the harmful effects of human activities on the environment emerged as a key issue during the dialogue. 

The impacts of threats such as climate change, plastic pollution, and destructive mining repeatedly harm the most vulnerable communities the most, despite higher public awareness.

Bagaforo emphasized the importance of “listening and journeying together” by all sectors to resolve these problems, saying, “This is also a continuing challenge to the Church, our communities, and families.”

Yeb Saño, vice-chairperson of Laudato Si’ Movement and former Philippine climate negotiator, highlighted that the spiritual aspect of the ecological crisis should not be overlooked, as it is what makes the interfaith community a critical stakeholder in this global issue.

According to him, “there is so much strength and wisdom we can derive” from strong traditions of social justice teachings, regardless of one’s spiritual tradition.

“Until we find the courage to stand up to arrogance and greed then we will not be any nearer to solving and averting this crisis,” he said.

Another important topic from the dialogue is the need for an integrated approach to solutions combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and protecting nature. 

This is a crucial message from the Laudato Si’, which the clergy, civil society groups, and communities have been trying to translate into concrete actions in the Philippines for the past seven years.

“We have to convince ourselves that injustice is not invincible,” Saño said.

Voices of the vulnerable

Representatives from vulnerable and impacted communities also delivered testimonies throughout the dialogue. 

Krishna Ariola, a youth advocate from Negros Occidental, shared her community’s struggles against fossil fuels.

Renewable energy advocates, aided by diocesan social action centers in the province, succeeded in stopping a 300-MW coal plant from being built. 

However, a new power plant on liquefied natural gas (LNG) has recently been proposed, prompting criticism from them.

Ariola presented how communities have been impacted by corporate interests in her province. These include coastal communities that would be displaced by the LNG facility and increased flooding cases due to multiple quarrying projects related to black sand mining near local rivers.

While recognizing they are facing “battles against big forces of power”, Ariola stated that the youth of Negros Occidental and their allies remain steadfast in their stand against perceived injustices.

“If we unite not out of fear, but of hope and the motivation to protect our community, there is so much power that we can pull together,” she said.

Leaders of other faith denominations also delivered messages of solidarity in commemoration of Laudato Si’ Week; these include Buddhism, Iglesia Filipina Independiente, the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, and Hinduism. 

They agreed on the imperative of environmental protection, more sustainable actions and lifestyles, and more compassion for other life on Earth as means to address the ecological crisis.

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