Several bishops from Germany and Austria, church and religious organizations in both countries, have come out in strong support for youth action and Fridays For Future

June 8, 2019
Thinking further, an abbot asks “When thousands of people fly across the world to attend World Youth Day, isn’t that a catastrophe that should be abolished?”  He urges us to “question our tradition and habits”

Pope Francis greets Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg during the weekly general audience in St. Peters Square, Vatican City, April 17. (Photo by EPA-EFE/VATICAN MEDIA HANDOUT/MaxPPP)

In La Croix, June 2019

Several bishops from Germany and Austria, and a number of church and religious organizations in both countries, have come out in strong support for Greta Thunberg’s “Fridays for Future” movement to protest global inaction on the climate crisis.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna praised Thunberg for motivating millions of children and young people to fight against climate change.

Writing on May 31 in his weekly column for the free paper Heute, the cardinal said the 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl had given him hope for the future.

On that same day, Thunberg and Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California, had just led thousands of young and old supporters of “Fridays for Future” on a protest march through the streets of Vienna.

Schönborn contrasts Thunberg’s movement with Austria’s political haggling

The 74-year-old cardinal noted approvingly that Thunberg received standing ovations for calling out to those responsible, “Let us at long last act!”

“What a contrast!” said Schönborn.

“On the one hand there’s squabbling in (the Austrian) parliament and on the other hand the voice of the younger generation that has had enough of party politics because it knows we can only confront today’s really great challenges together,” he said.

It was an “encouraging sign that so many young people have taken to the streets for the great cause of climate protection common to the whole of humankind,” said the cardinal’s auxiliary, Bishop Stephan Turnovszky.

The 54-year-old bishop, who is responsible for the youth ministry in the Austrian episcopal conference, told Kathpress that he had taken part in the protest demonstration.

He said he fully supports those Catholic youth groups that backed “Fridays for Future” and would use his influence to “bring these young people together with politicians and decision makers.”

Bishop Turnovsky stressed that it’s of utmost importance that Church representatives help the “Fridays for Future” supporters so that their protest leads to concrete measures towards climate protection.

Catholic young people and ecumenical environmentalists add their support

The Austrian Catholic Youth Association (KJÖ) and the Ecumenical Network for Climate Justice in Germany are among such supporters.

The KJÖ has launched “#callforchange – young voices for creation,” which is compiling demands for a “sustainable society.” Young people can send in their demands for measures to combat climate change until July 2019. The list of demands will then be handed over to politicians responsible for the environment.

“It is high time to take responsibility for creation seriously and bring about a radical change in light of global warming, poverty, an ever-widening income gap, short-term economic thinking and lack of appropriate tax incentives,” said KJÖ spokesperson Magdalena Bachleitner.

For its part, the Ecumenical Network for Climate Justice in Germany has initiated “#churchesforfuture,” an initiative supported by both Catholic and Protestant churches in the country. Among them are the large Catholic charities “Miserior” and “Adveniat,” as well as the Association of German Catholic Youth (BDKJ).

Bishop urges young people to ‘stand up in God’s name’

A number of German bishops are also voicing their support of “Fridays for Future.” One of the most notable is Bishop Heiner Wilmer of Hildesheim. During this year’s Chrism Mass the bishop, a former worldwide head of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart (Dehonians), likened Thunberg to a young prophet.

“She just stands there calmly without throwing stones and demands that we keep to the stipulations of the UN Climate Change Conference,” the 58-year-old bishop told 2,500 young people at Mass in Hildesheim Cathedral.

He encouraged them to stand up like Thunberg saying, “You are wide awake. Stand up in God’s name. Stand up!”

“I am most impressed by these young people who go out onto the streets week after week,” said Bishop Heinrich Timmerevers of Dresden.

“We must take their warnings (concerning climate change) very seriously and they must wake us up,” he told the German Press Agency DPA on April 16, one day before Thunberg met Pope Francis in Rome.

“I am sure that these young people will make a big difference and will shake up people’s indifference in favor of a dialogue on the sustainable development of the planet which is all our home,” the 66-year-old bishop insisted.

Benedictine abbot questions ecological viability of World Youth Day

Meanwhile, Abbot Beda Maria Sonnenberg of the Benedictine Abbey of Plankenstetten in Bavaria has warned that more emphasis must be given to “our ecological footprint” as part of pastoral work.

“We should be an eco-trailblazer and question our tradition and habits,” said the 52-year-old abbot.

“When thousands of people fly across the world to attend World Youth Day, isn’t that a catastrophe that should be abolished?” he asked rhetorically in a May 31 interview with KNA.

When the interview remarked that abolishing World Youth Day would be a great loss of powerful radiance, the abbot replied: “Radiance only in the form of headlines. The Church’s true radiance is when the faithful care for their sick neighbors – even if no-one reports it.”