French 'Hummingbird Pilgrim' Hugo Degryse

Novena profile: “Polluting is a sin that must be confessed”, says French ‘Hummingbird Pilgrim’

Whether Catholics should support climate change campaigners like Greta Thunberg has been a talking point in the Church ever since the Swedish teenager began her “School Strike for the Climate” protests outside the Swedish Parliament in August 2018.

The issue has returned to the news this week after a German bishop compared the 16-year-old activist with the biblical figure of David.

Like Goliath “the big ones in this world are also learning to be afraid, and a little girl from Sweden is shaking them up with the ‘Fridays for Future'” movement, said Würzburg Bishop Franz Jung to an audience of children preparing for their First Communion.

“Adults always have solutions and always think they know how to do it. But the little ones, they often know better what is necessary”, said Jung, encouraging the children to find their own answers in life, to find their own way and “not copy the answers of others”.

Jung isn’t the only German Church figure to speak out in favour of Thunberg.

Just before Easter Berlin Archbishop Heiner Koch said that societies need “prophets” like Thunberg “who point out grievances and aberrations and propose solutions”.

“The Friday protests remind me a little of the biblical scene of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem”, continued the prelate, later downplaying the parallel between the activist and Christ.

But should Catholics support Greta Thunberg? And if so, why?

Pope Francis, the “greenest” Pope in history, has thrown his support behind the young activist, meeting her after a general audience in April as she showed off her sign “Join the Climate Strike”.

“Continue, continue,” the Pope told Thunberg. “Go on, go ahead.”

Thunberg replied: “Thank you for standing up for the climate, for speaking the truth. It means a lot.”

Beyond the fact that Pope Francis personally supports the activist, however, there are even more important reasons for Catholics to get behind Thunberg’s cause.

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Hugo Degryse: “Being Catholic and concerned for the environment should be the same thing”

The 23-year-old Frenchman Hugo Degryse has taken up the fight against climate change from a Catholic perspective, and now dedicates his time to giving conferences in Central America on the connection between ecology and faith.

The “Hummingbird Pilgrim”, as Degryse calls himself, is convinced that “being Catholic and concerned for the environment should be one and the same thing”.

“We know that the Earth is God’s creation, so we should take care of it, because the damage being done is an offence and a sin against God”, said Degryse earlier this month. “Polluting is a sin that must be confessed: Pope Benedict XVI said it and a little time ago so did Francis”.

“Many people say you don’t need to have faith to look after the environment, but with faith you have a broader perspective, and that gives us the strength to continue”, continues the young Frenchman.

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Degryse has put together a list of recommendations for Catholics interested in caring for the world around them:

  • The first and most important is to pray. For the future of the planet and to ask forgiveness of God for the sin we’re committing, personally and as a society.
  • Live more soberly: to care for the environment and for our own personal holiness. We consume too much and the world makes us think the more things we have, the happier we are, when we know deep down that the opposite is true. “Less is more, moderation makes you happier”, explains Degryse.
  • Stop using disposable plastics: these are the symbol of the environmental crisis, of individualism, and of our generation of huge amounts of rubbish.
  • “I invite you to think, every time you throw something into the rubbish: What could I have done to avoid creating this rubbish?”, suggests the Frenchman.
  • Recycle what’s left over: “This is a last resort, not a solution”, warns Degryse.
  • Eat less meat, especially beef, to reduce the impact on the environment. Choose meat of better quality, and of local production.
  • Use other modes of transport apart from cars: share transport with other, take the bus or ride a bike.
  • Orient one’s life to the service of the common good: “Don’t ask in your life ‘What can I get with my work or with my degree?'”, suggests Degryse. “The question I invite you to ask yourself is: “What can I give with my degree? With my job? What am I going to contribute to the world? I invite young and old alike to vocational discernment, to serve God’s will”.
  • Participate in the global protests for climate.
  • Be a part of boycotts: don’t buy anything from businesses that pollute.
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