Talk of God excluded from "International Youth Hearing" at World Youth Day

Colonialism, climate justice and the church: "Many things take too long"

International Youth Hearing at WYD

At the "Youth Hearing" during the World Youth Day, the BDKJ dealt with colonialism and climate justice. It became clear that young Christians are ready to work for fairer global structures. At the end of the event, a small success could already be recorded.

The auditorium of the German Pilgrim Centre was full, even on the floor in front of the stage young people had taken their seats. Many could not even be admitted. The "International Youth Hearing", organised by the Federation of German Catholic Youth (BDKJ) during the World Youth Day in Lisbon, revolved around colonialism and climate justice. (Cathcon:  Clearly not around Jesus Christ) The topic is obviously on the minds of many World Youth Day pilgrims. The aim was to look for common approaches with representatives of the Church, politics and civil society on how young people can become protagonists of a world in the spirit of Jesus and stand up for justice and preservation worldwide.

For one and a half hours, there was a committed and, in some places, controversial discussion about what the church in particular can or should do to overcome this problem. "If you want climate justice, you have to talk about colonialism," said Susanna Laux from the Arbeitsgemeinschaften Katholischer Hochschulgemeinden in her opening statement. People in the global South are the biggest losers of the climate crisis and most affected by its consequences. In the fight against climate change, "old power structures" are reviving. True climate justice can only be achieved through an open confrontation with colonialism.

International solidarity and efforts

Bishop Bertram Meier of Augsburg, Chairman of the Commission for the Global Church of the German Bishops' Conference (DBK), emphasised that the interrelationships were complex and spoke out against one-sided apportionment of blame. However, he said, the global North has a duty to promote the socio-economic transformation that Pope Francis is also talking about. The fight against climate change therefore demands international solidarity and efforts. However, poorer countries should not be denied economic development, but supported in sustainable development.

With regard to the Church in Germany, Meier said that the bishops also want to advance the issue of socio-ecological transformation. The Bishops' Conference has already published a study on this. "But paper is patient," Meier admitted. Although the topic has high priority in the Bishops' Conference, there has not yet been a study day on it at plenary meetings - because other topics have always come up.

 International Youth Hearing at the WYD

The auditorium of the German Pilgrimage Centre was completely filled for the "Youth Hearing".

Commenting on the efforts in his own diocese of Augsburg, Meier said that the diocese had decided to be climate neutral by 2030. But an ordinariate is a "thick tanker". There, too, there are different interests. The diocese's environmental engineer therefore sometimes has to lobby. As a bishop, he usually only has the "power of the word" to initiate some things. But the implementation depends on everyone. "It needs a lot of people to go along."

The argument that a bishop only has the power of the word when it comes to climate protection, however, is not accepted by Volker Andres, BDKJ Diocesan Chair in Cologne. Bishops do have the power to enforce things. Much is already happening in the area of climate protection, but not enough is happening, even in the dioceses. Because the issue does not seem to have enough priority in many places, many things take too long. It is therefore important that young people continue to raise their voices for change and build up pressure. "Because only when many are loud, maybe something will move in politics and the church. And the attitude that needs to be changed will then perhaps also be translated into action - and then we are no longer just talking about nice papers."

Responsibility is concealed

For the BDKJ leaders, Portugal in particular is a suitable place for a debate like this: On the one hand, the effects of climate change are increasingly visible there, on the other hand, the country has a long colonial history. The Portuguese environmental and anti-racism activist Danilo Moreira, who was also a guest at the "Youth Hearing", emphasised that Portugal refuses to come to terms with its colonial history. The narrative of the "good colonial master" is still widespread in society. This is also still taught in school textbooks.

Looking at the global situation, he stressed that the ever-increasing economic dependence of the Global South enables countries in Europe to conceal their own responsibility for climate change. He explained that historical continuities still existed and power structures were unchanged. He called on international politics to "find long-term solutions that benefit everyone". Europe must be at the forefront of the movement.

The young people in the plenary wanted to know how the Church dealt with its responsibility for colonialism. After all, popes had once welcomed the "voyages of discovery" of the colonial powers, and missionaries were already on the first ships. Bishop Meier admitted that there had been a kind of "underexposure" of this topic in the Church in the past centuries. This applies not only to the hierarchy, but to all Christians. However, Pope John Paul II, in the context of his petitions for forgiveness in the Holy Year 2000, had also asked for forgiveness for the fact that Christians had let themselves be led "by pride and hatred, by the will to dominate others. Susanna Laux thinks this is not enough: she demands a clear statement by the Church on its past in colonialism.

Another question from the audience was: Why doesn't the rich Church in Germany invest much more resources in climate protection measures? Bishop Meier pointed out that in the meantime, close attention is paid to this, especially in the project funding of Catholic relief organisations. Their work is important - but there are also voices in the Church that question whether aid agencies like Misereor are still needed in view of dwindling financial resources. Meier called on the audience to "make sure that the work of the world church is maintained". In principle, the Church was already doing a lot in the area of climate justice, but it could certainly do more.

Not to be divided

Susanna Laux ended the event with some self-criticism. The fact that some parts of society are now waving away climate protection may also have something to do with the way young people express themselves in public. More dialogue is needed here, especially with the older generations. If this does not happen and if we do not succeed in involving as many people as possible, it could well be that the AfD, which has nothing to do with these issues, will be the governing party in Germany in a few years. Bishop Meier also warned against "rubbing our eyes because we have divided ourselves". For "right-wing groups" liked to focus on issues that were also in vogue in some circles of the Catholic Church. "We should not give in to that."

It is probably still a rocky road to a climate-just world without "old power structures" between North and South. But young people in the Church are ready to walk it - that became clear at the "Youth Hearing". The event can already demonstrate one concrete success. The German Ambassador to Portugal, Julia Monar, was also a guest on the podium. She announced that she would report on the "Youth Hearing" to her colleagues at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin during climate negotiations. She also said she would recommend that they discuss these issues with the BDKJ or other church institutions before negotiations.



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