On May 16, 2023, torrential rains following months of drought caused an unprecedented flood in the northern and eastern regions of Emilia Romagna that killed at least 14 people, left an estimated 20,000 homeless, and over 50,000 displaced.
The escalating impacts of climate change have given rise to a new category of displaced individuals known as climate refugees. These are people who are forced to flee their homes due to environmental degradation, rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and other climate-related factors. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC report), as of 31 December 2021, there are 5.9 million internally displaced people as a result of disasters in 84 countries. Among the top 25 countries, 6 of them are found where the Camillian missions are present, namely, the Philippines, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil, and Haiti.
The Catholic Church, with its longstanding commitment to social justice and solidarity, has recognized the urgency of addressing the needs of climate refugees and has taken significant steps to respond to this humanitarian crisis. The Camillians, in particular, have a track record of delivering humanitarian support and building the resilience of people displaced by natural disasters in Kenya (Somalian refugees) and the Philippines (Aeta indigenous people) through the Camillian Disaster Service International (CADIS) Foundation.
Climate refugees are individuals who are compelled to leave their homes and seek refuge elsewhere due to the direct or indirect consequences of climate change. They face a range of challenges, including loss of land, scarcity of resources, food insecurity, water stress, and the threat of natural disasters.
The Church's teachings emphasize the dignity of every human person and the responsibility to care for those in need, including migrants and refugees. Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken about the moral imperative to address the plight of climate refugees. In his encyclical "Laudato Si'," he highlights the interconnectedness of ecological and social crises, calling for an integrated approach that combines care for the environment with concern for the poor and vulnerable.
The New Frontier of Camillian Ministry
As we commemorate the 473rd birthday of St. Camillus de Lellis and the feast of the Camillian Martyrs of Charity on May 25, we are invited to remember and create a connection with our past and make it alive today as we confront the impact of climate change especially among the most vulnerable population. This is an essential aspect of our prophetic heritage. We want to celebrate by highlighting the values of commitment, solidarity, self-denial, generosity, and option for the poor. We don’t want to be different but to become radicals by making a difference in the lives of climate refugees. We want to imitate the martyrs of charity by espousing and embracing their desire, enthusiasm, and courage in encountering the survivors of climate disasters.
In particular, we invite you to become protagonists and prime movers of ecological conversion - “the transformation of hearts and minds toward greater love of God, each other, and creation [...] acknowledging our contribution to the social and ecological crisis and acting in ways that nurture communion: healing and renewing our common home.” (Laudato Si Movement). It is more than the call to go green and use renewable energy but, above all, a change of lifestyle to live what is necessary and overcome wants and desires, and always discern in favor of others and our common home.
It is an invitation to deliver humanitarian assistance and support to humanitarian workers in offering aid to climate refugees such as shelter, food, healthcare, and mental health services events. CADIS is promoting an annual contribution to its emergency fund to mobilize a quick response to the survivors of climate disasters.
It is a call to mobilize community support and resilience. Climate refugees are in need of welcome (opening of humanitarian corridors), protection (recognition of their rights and dignity), promotion (integral human development), and integration (wider participation in society). (cf. 20 Action Points). These efforts foster solidarity, empathy, and a sense of shared responsibility among the faithful.
Recognizing the need for systemic change, the Church has been actively engaging in advocacy efforts at national and international levels. The Church uses its moral authority to call for stronger climate policies, increased support for adaptation and mitigation measures, and the protection of the rights and dignity of climate refugees. CADIS supports the advocacy of the Church by enrolling in the Laudato Si Action Platform, a journey towards total sustainability in the spirit of integral ecology.
The Way Forward
As the number of climate refugees continues to rise, compassionate, competent, committed, and respectful to the rights of person’s response of the Camillians becomes increasingly crucial. Guided by the social teachings of the Church and the Camillian tradition of care and service as modeled by St. Camillus de Lellis and the Camillian Martyrs of Charity, we recognize the urgent need to address the plight of climate refugees, offering humanitarian assistance, advocating for systemic changes, and fostering inclusive communities. By standing in solidarity with climate refugees and promoting the values of justice, compassion, and stewardship, we exemplify a powerful force for positive change in the face of one of the greatest challenges of our time.
Happy and prosperous feast of the Camillian Martyrs of Charity!
Bro. Jose Ignacio Santaolalla Sáez, MI
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