Fr. John Jenkins, CSC, the President of the famous American University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana, says we cannot simply do our job, but must be distinguished by the dimension of faith and moral framework we Catholic institutions offer, and think of what world we are leaving our children and future generations.
He told this to ZENIT at a private encounter with a select group of journalists that he met with in Rome.
Earlier he had spent the week participating in the encounter on the theme ‘The Energy Transition and Care for our Common Home,’ promoted by the Vatican’s Dicastery for an Integral Human Development, and led by its prefect, Cardinal Peter Turkson, with world oil executives, held in the Vatican’s Casino IV.
The president co-signed climate change accords with energy and investor executives at the Vatican summit. Executives from among the world’s leading energy producers and investors concluded two days of Vatican-sponsored dialogue on energy transition Friday (June 14), with — for the first time — most signing statements of support for carbon pricing and disclosures on climate change risk.
Pope Francis addressed the summit and participated in a rare Q&A with participants.
“Collectively, these leaders will influence the planet’s future, perhaps more than any in the world,” said Father Jenkins. “I am deeply grateful for their commitment to the transition to a low-carbon future while providing the energy needed to support the integral human development of every member of the human family.”
Who Will Pay the Price
Speaking to ZENIT, he responded to how the university has lived out the initiatives of Laudato Si.
Guided and inspired by the Holy Father’s encyclical on the environment, the first of its kind, he explained that Notre Dame developed a comprehensive plan for sustainability in 2016, which targets six key areas: energy and emissions; water; building and construction; waste; procurement, licensing and sourcing; and education, research and community outreach.
“Since that time,” he said, “implementation efforts have included the introduction of five green roofs, construction of a 30,000-square-foot thermal energy production and storage facility, three operational solar arrays, and funding for several research initiatives by faculty and graduate students on sustainable energy and development. The University is on track to cease its use of coal nearly a year ahead of the initial projected date.”
“I think these issues are very important to young people,” he stressed, noting: “for it is them and future generations, who will be forced to pay the price.”
Founded in 1842, the University of Notre Dame is the nation’s leading Catholic research university, providing a distinctive voice in higher education that is, according to its website, “at once rigorously intellectual, unapologetically moral in orientation and firmly embracing of a service ethos.”
The University of Notre Dame, which has had a Rome campus for years, is rated among the top 20 of all U.S. institutions of higher learning.
What distinguishes Catholic universities
Speaking about what distinguishes Catholic universities from others, he stressed, that among many factors, “what Catholic universities can bring is a dimension of faith.”
“It brings into play a moral, faith-filled framework, which enables one to engage in important themes not just on a business or social level, but on a moral one.”
Conversion, We Cannot Simply Do Our Job…
Fr. Jenkins also told ZENIT about the incredibly unique experience in the Vatican.
“Pope Francis has a rich spiritual presence which sustains, which endures,” he said, stressing: “It is hard to be in the Holy Father’s presence and not sense his genuineness and spiritual depth.”
“There was almost a sense of conversion,” as, he suggested, “one cannot help but realize we need to take seriously this moral challenge.”
“We cannot simply do our job…”
In a joint declaration, Cardinal Turkson and Father Jenkins observed that climate change and environmental degradation are powerful drivers of the energy transition.
“Addressing this social-ecological crisis,” they underscored, “requires radical change at all levels, both personal and collective. This transition needs the support of markets, significant adoption of renewables as a source of energy, increased efficiency in the use of existing resources, new technologies, farsighted policies, educated civil society, and new forms of global leadership and cooperation.”
“As neither the energy transition nor climate change can be reduced to economic, technological, and regulatory issues alone, there is the need for a moral voice.”
The Vatican–given the Holy Father’s groundbreaking Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home–, they asserted, “is in a unique position to offer this moral voice.”
World Leaving Our Children, and Unborn
At the encounter, leaders from oil and gas companies, the global investment community, and other sectors strongly agreed on the urgent need for a systematic transition to a low-emissions economy consistent with a 2°C scenario while governed by care for people, especially the most vulnerable.
According to a press release, the participants discussed the paths forward with a specific focus on (1) the integral role of a just transition that addresses the needs of disadvantaged populations, (2) importance of carbon pricing toward the reduction of emissions, and (3) necessity for disclosures to provide clear information on strategies and actions, governance process and performance.
From these discussions, two joint statements relating to carbon pricing and proper disclosures were formulated.
Cardinal Turkson and Father Jenkins expressed their gratitude to all those who participated in the dialogue, concluding: “Let us move forward with resolute persistence keeping in mind the question from Laudato Si’, ‘What kind of world do we want to leave to our children and those yet unborn?’”
Below is the Vatican-provided full translation of Pope Francis’ address given on June 14, 2019:
Distinguished Executives, Investors and Experts,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I extend a warm welcome to all of you on the occasion of this Dialogue on the theme The Energy Transition and Care for our Common Home. Your return to Rome, after last year’s meeting, is a positive sign of your continued commitment to working together in a spirit of solidarity to promote concrete steps for the care of our planet. For this I thank you.
This second Dialogue is taking place at a critical moment. Today’s ecological crisis, especially climate change, threatens the very future of the human family. For too long we have collectively failed to listen to the fruits of scientific analysis and “doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain” (Laudato Si’, 161). Any discussion of climate change and the energy transition must be rooted, then, in “the results of the best scientific research available today, letting them touch us deeply” (ibid., 15).
A significant development in this past year was the release of the “Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). That Report clearly warns that effects on the climate will be catastrophic if we cross the threshold of 1.5ºC outlined in the Paris Agreement goal. The Report warns, moreover, that only one decade or so remains in order to achieve this confinement of global warming. Faced with a climate emergency, we must take action accordingly, in order to avoid perpetrating a brutal act of injustice towards the poor and future generations. We must take responsible actions bearing in mind their impact in the short and in the long term.
In effect, it is the poor who suffer the worst impacts of the climate crisis. As current situations demonstrate, the poor are those most vulnerable to hurricanes, droughts, floods and other extreme climatic events. Courage is surely required, therefore, in responding to “the increasingly desperate cries of the earth and its poor”. At the same time, future generations stand to inherit a greatly spoiled world. Our children and grandchildren should not have to pay the cost of our generation’s irresponsibility. Indeed, as is becoming increasingly clear, young people are calling for change (cf. Laudato Si’, 13).
Your meeting has focused on three interrelated points: first, a just transition; second, carbon pricing; and third, transparency in reporting climate risk. These are three immensely complex issues and I commend you for taking them up.
A just transition, as you know, is called for in the Preamble to the Paris Agreement. Such a transition involves managing the social and employment impact of the move to a low-carbon society. If managed well, this transition can generate new jobs, reduce inequality and improve the quality of life for those affected by climate change.
Second, carbon pricing is essential if humanity is to use the resources of creation wisely. The failure to deal with carbon emissions has incurred a vast debt that will now have to be repaid with interest by those coming after us. Our use of the world’s natural resources can only be considered ethical when the economic and social costs of using them are transparently recognized and are fully borne by those who incur them, rather than by other people or future generations (cf. Laudato Si’, 195).
The third issue, transparency in reporting climate risk, is essential because economic resources must be deployed where they can do the most good. Open, transparent, science-based and standardized reporting is in the common interests of all, enabling financial capital to move to those areas that support “the fullest possibilities to human ingenuity to create and innovate, while at the same time protecting the environment and creating more sources of employment” (Laudato Si’, 192).
Dear friends, time is running out! Deliberations must go beyond mere exploration of what can be done, and concentrate on what needs to be done. We do not have the luxury of waiting for others to step forward, or of prioritizing short-term economic benefits. The climate crisis requires “our decisive action, here and now” (Laudato Si’, 161) and the Church is fully committed to playing her part.
In our meeting last year, I expressed the concern that “civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!”Today a radical energy transition is needed to save our common home.
There is still hope and there remains time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, provided there is prompt and resolute action, for we know that “human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start” (Laudato Si’, 205).
I thank you once again for responding generously to the invitation of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. I assure you of my prayers for your deliberations, and upon you and your families I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings.
 Address to Participants in the International Conference marking the third anniversary of Laudato Si’, 6 July 2018.