People of faith listening to the cries of the earth

Mari Oumar Sall, LWF country program in Mauritania, describing efforts to combat desertification and care for refugees, at a side event of COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco Photo: LWF/Ryan Rodrick Beiler

Growing cooperation between LWF Mauritania program and church in Senegal

(LWI) – The 22nd United Nations climate conference currently underway in Marrakech, Morocco, is being described as the “COP of Action.”

As negotiations at the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change move further to define implementation of the COP 21 Paris Agreement, The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) offered a roundtable discussion on “Faith based organizations implementing climate projects,” during which presenters discussed concrete actions to mitigate climate change.

Panel moderator Elena Cedillo Vargas from the LWF Central America program, shared about the micro insurance offered to farmers, training young people and the experience gained from collaboration with state and non-state actors in El Salvador.

Presenter Mari Oumar Sall from the LWF country program in Mauritania is the first Muslim to join the LWF delegation. She described how the LWF combats desertification by supporting tree planting for a “Green Belt” (also known as “Great Green Wall of Africa”). The program also works on agricultural adaptation projects with displaced Malians who have sought refuge in the country, and collaborates with the LWF member church in neighboring Senegal on climate issues.

“I’m very happy to be here to be with pastors, priests, leaders of mosques, youth leaders and other representatives,” said the 29-year old, a week into the 7-18 November COP session, during which the LWF jointly with ACT Alliance and the World Council of Churches and other-faith based organizations are advocating for people who are most vulnerable to climate change. “I’m really very moved by this moment,” she added.

“The first thing I want to do when I get back home in Mauritania is to unite and bring together the young Muslims in my country to fight against climate change,” she said.

But Sall’s interest is not only in working with fellow Muslims, as the LWF program, present in Mauritania since 1974, is already partnering with local congregations in neighboring Senegal. Pascal Kama, 31, General Secretary of the Lutheran Church of Senegal spoke of this partnership.

“In Senegal we experienced a drought and we tried to reach out to our neighboring country and partner with Mauritania so they can help us with their expertise,” said Kama. “We are preparing an official cooperation between those two countries and our programs in the months to come.”

Continue interfaith cooperation

Participant Mark Bryant of Eco Islam, a United Kingdom-based Islamic environmental organization, offered further encouragement to continue interfaith cooperation.

“It’s been important for me to see the good work that you’re doing,” said Bryant, noting that “sometimes it’s isolating” to work on issues of climate justice in religious, cultural and political contexts that are either skeptical or consumed by competing concerns.

Fr Rufino Lim, a Korean-born Franciscan brother living in Rome, urged faith-based climate activists “go scientific.”

“For me as a religious person we usually talk about ideas, mostly abstract ideas,” he said. “We are to do good. We are to listen to the cries of the earth and the cries of the poor.”

Inspired by the example of Protestant churches curbing their carbon emissions Lim added: “We too should calculate exactly how much CO2 we are emitting. We should know about those facts in numbers—concrete numbers—so that we change our lifestyle in actual fact.”

In a fitting conclusion to the conversation, Lim led a closing blessing in which he declared, “We are all priests. We are all human beings. And we believe in the sanctity of existence and the Almighty.”

He then asked those present to extend their hands in a blessing to each other, offering a prayer in his native Korean, as the Muslim call to prayer echoed outside in the streets of Marrakech.

(By freelance journalist Ryan Rodrick Beiler at COP 22 in Marrakech, and LWF Communications)

Related links:

COP22 Interfaith climate statement

Photos from faith-based events at COP22

WCC work on care for creation and climate change

LWF at COP22

ACT Now for climate