Cardinal Soane Patita Mafi has a message for the politicians who will soon gather at the COP 26 conference, regarded by many as the last chance to avoid the worst that climate change has to offer.
The Tongan-based prelate’s message is simple: Listen.
“We want those big nations to really see and to really hear,” he said in an interview with the British Catholic magazine, The Tablet.
“Not to pretend. Not to turn away. We want them not to be deafened to the cry of reality by other agendas. Can they turn an ear of love, not of political expediency? Are they prepared to hear the voice of the voiceless?”
For the senior Catholic church leader in the Pacific, it is important that peoples of the Pacific are not overlooked in Glasgow. The islands are among the most vulnerable in the world and Cardinal Mafi has emerged as one of their most eloquent advocates
Mafi told The Tablet that when young Tongans question their role in the church and ask “Who are we?” their question is bound up with questions about the fragility of the environment.
Cardinal Mafi was consecrated just three months before the publication of Pope Francis’ widely influential encyclical, Laudato Si, which calls for a widespread rebirth of spirituality and social and environmental awareness to combat climate change and redress the horrendous imbalance of power and wealth in society.
The Cardinal is a member of the executive of Caritas Internationalis and, since March 2021, the president of Caritas Oceania, which has seven member organisations: Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, New Zealand and Australia. Across the Pacific he sees climate change-induced problems in many Island states, including deforestation in Solomon Islands, people in Kiribati losing their homes, villages in Fiji forced to relocate owing to rising sea waters, vanishing foreshores and erosion.
He is worried about effects of climate change, which have brought severe cyclones more often. His own house floods on a regular basis. However, he believes it is important that the huge challenges facing the Pacific do not reduce people to fear and passivity.
He told The Tablet that he visited people after storms and was always lifted by their resolve to help each other.
“They are always smiling. But when you visit them privately in their homes, they will share their real emotions. There is a lot of pain and many tears,” he said.
He fears that the loss of a traditional communal lifestyle would deprive people of the one resource they had to cope and prosper. “This is worth more than so-called economic development and foreign-owned infrastructure.”
This is an abridged and edited version of an article by Michael Girr, which appeared in The Tablet on October 21, 2021.