Faith Leaders mark six months since papal audience

Wednesday 18th October 2023

Faith leaders from across Greater Manchester gathered together this week to mark six months since an historic meeting in Rome.

April 2023 saw an impressive delegation of religious and civic leaders from across Greater Manchester travel to The Vatican to pledge united environmental action to Pope Francis himself.

Jointly led by Bishop John and Rogers Govender – Dean of Manchester – the group welcomed representatives from number of different faith groups, including Bishop David Walker from the Diocese of Manchester, Reverend Ian Rutherford from Methodist Central Hall, representatives from Sikh, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim faiths, as well as Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Lord Mayor of Manchester Donna Ludford.

In a private audience with His Holiness, this cross-discipline delegation made three key promises to each other and Pope Francis for the good of our common home:

  • To support the use of renewable technology and accelerate the decarbonisation of our places of worship;
  • To use our land to help heal nature and increase biodiversity;
  • To encourage our communities to engage in proactive transformation behavioural change.

Six months on from this rare meeting, representatives of the group gathered once more – this time at Bishop John’s residence Wardley Hall – to reflect on what has happened since the visit to Rome and what are the key messages moving forward.

Image of all interfaith and civic leaders listening to guidance from Pope Francis

The Time for Action

The Reverend Ian Rutherford, City Centre Minister at Methodist Central Hall Manchester, described the sense of enthusiasm and mission across the group following the meeting with Pope Francis.

He said: “We came back from Rome fired up to make sure the commitments we made in front of the Holy Father were followed through within all of our faith communities. So, we came together for Our Faith, Our Planet in a conference at Manchester Museum to do some workshops on those three commitments: decarbonisation, biodiversity, and behavioural change.

“We were also able to speak at the Greater Manchester Summit in the final plenary, where we were able to talk about how as a sector – a faith sector – we were committed to these three things but also asking the other sectors present to actually help us make it a reality. So, part of our ambition now is not just to say words, but to follow them up with real action.”

Already, the different faith groups and denominations have been working hard to put those commitments into action, looking at ways to reduce their carbon footprints, to protect and nurture biodiversity across Greater Manchester, and to kickstart that culture change within our communities.

The Right Revered Dr David Walker, Lord Bishop of Manchester, explained a little more about how the Church of England is working to fulfil those pledges locally: “In our Diocese of Manchester, we’ve been looking at where our carbon footprint really lies, and it’s less in the tiny little village church that might only be warm and toasty for a couple of hours on a Sunday morning – it’s in our schools, some of our big schools with more than a 1,000 pupils that are in operation for more than half of the days of the year. So, we’re going to work with our schools, as well as with our bigger buildings, to see how we can help them really reduce their carbon footprint to help meeting the Church of England’s target of being net zero by the end of this decade.”

This drive to take concrete action was echoed by Sukhbir Singh, a community volunteer and Sikh chaplain to the Universities of Manchester.

He said: “As a practising Sikh, I was very privileged and very honoured to actually be allowed to meet Pope Francis and have an audience with him. I went there with a passion about actually making a difference with climate change but I was talking a lot but doing less. But I came back with real action about making real change and following through with those three pledges we made to Pope Francis. So I came back doing, rather than saying. But also, my faith and my religion as a practising Sikh, became much stronger.”

A Legacy of Hope and Friendship

As the meeting drew to a close, the group made their way over to our Laudato Si’ Centre, to explore its beautiful walled garden and woodland area and to find out more about its work in promoting that change of culture within our communities.

Here, the group planted a beautiful weeping pear tree – a lasting symbol of their ongoing commitment to each other and their shared aim to care for our common home.

Photo of the interfaith leaders planting a weeping pear tree at the Laudato Si' Centre

Reflecting on the partnership that is rooted in those commitments made in Rome and brought back to our region, Bishop John said: “Well, we came away from Rome, I think, feeling that Manchester is a very cosmopolitan area and we have diverse faiths and we were meeting together, speaking together, and agreeing together about our commitments. And we have formed a real bond of friendship in making sure that we are working together and that we have that common aim of caring for our common home. And Pope Francis was very clear – in both Laudato Si’ and what he said to us – we’ve all got our part to play.

“And he’s now issued Laudate Deum – that follow up to Laudato Si’. In this, Pope Francis tells us that it’s not just our actions on ground level among ourselves that’s important, but we must be looking for that multilateral collaboration between governments working together globally – because this is a global question. We need to be making sure we are working together to mend the damage that’s been done and to look after all our brothers and sisters, particularly those most affected. But we have hope and we’re working together, and there’s a good combination of what we can achieve together.”

This sense of hope was also shared by Rabbi Warren Elf, rabbi of two Reform Synagogues in Greater Manchester and founding trustee of the Faith Network for Manchester, who believes this multi-faith, multi-discipline fellowship can create real change for our world.

He said: “I think the thing that we all gave to each other was more of a sense of deepening commitment of the opportunity we have to do things together, and above all, the message of hope.

“We really believe that together we can actually achieve just so much more. We’re all doing positive things; some of us are doing immense things, and some of us are doing lots of small, little bits and pieces, but there is this sense that together, as a group – on an ongoing basis – we can go from strength-to-strength, achieve more and more in terms of the three commitments, in terms of making a difference, alleviating poverty in a way we haven’t even envisaged before and trying to protect our world at the same time.”

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Tagged | Bishop John | Catholic Church | Environment | interfaith | Laudato Si Centre | Pope

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