(Vatican Radio) On Friday April 22, over 1 billion people are coming together to celebrate International Mother Earth Day. This year, Earth Day coincides with the signing of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, a legally binding document aiming to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius.
The theme for this year’s Earth Day is “Trees for the Earth.” Trees are crucial to combating climate change because they absorb harmful levels of CO2 from the atmosphere. Leaders of the international holiday at the Earth Day Network set a goal to plant 7.8 billion trees within the next five years.
In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis urges us to participate in the care for our common home. Rufino Lim, a Franciscan Friar from South Korea and an assistant at the General Office for Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC), holds this encyclical letter close to his heart. “It is telling us to listen to the poor and to the cries of the earth, because they are the real teachers,” he says.
Vatican Radio’s Sophia Pizzi speaks with Rufino Lim for more on his work with climate change and the importance of the Laudato Si in light of Earth Day this year.
New to his position at JPIC, Rufino Lim has only been in Rome for about two weeks. Prior to his arrival, he went on a “climate pilgrimage” in Korea. While on this journey, he encountered many people suffering from climate change. “I cried a lot,” he says. “I didn’t know what this reality of this capitalistic society was.”
To illustrate the significance of trees in society, Lim tells a story of his friend in Korea: “The two of us made a kind of journey together where we would take three steps, bow to the earth, and then take another three steps. Whenever my friend saw a flower, he would stop for a while and bow deeply. When he encountered a tree, he would stop for a while and hug the tree. You could feel the mystery of small flowers and trees…they cannot speak in the same way we do, but they are more deeply related to the mystery of God, the mystery of life.”
Lim also participated in the United Nation’s Conference on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris last year with over 40 Korean environmental activists. Lim considers all of the participants “very knowledgeable,” however, he also feels the Paris Agreement is not sufficient. “Those were just words,” he says. “We should be more clear and push the governments to change their policies and their attitudes to the earth, to the poor, and to the climate.”
On his “climate pilgrimage,” Lim also brought copies of the Laudato Si to give to everyone he encountered. “We would all say one of the two prayers at the end of the encyclical together, and we all cried. We were all very deeply touched by the words of the Pope. No matter what beliefs the people had, they are very interested in the contents of the book.”
Dreaming of the future, Lim hopes the world will change its ways. “The whole structure is so evil,” he says. “We need to be more transparent. People should listen to those who do not have the tools, money, or resources to change the world, and see the reality that they are living in. Then we could change our hearts, our minds, and our visions, and find a new structure that is more just and sustainable. We should not cling to idea of development. It is about life, and about peace. Climate change is closely related to politics, but it is also closely related to peace.” By talking about these issues more freely and publically, he says, we will find a better way to “give this world to the next generation.”