Rio+20: the Church making sure governments don't forget the social dimension

2012-06-18 Vatican Radio

The photograph shows an indigenous man taking a picture during the opening ceremony of the Peoples Summit at Rio+20 for Social and Environmental Justice in Rio de Janeiro.

This event (15-23 June), which runs parallel and overlaps the Rio+20 United Nations sustainable development summit to be held from June 20 to 22, sees the participation of over 50,000 people representing civil society and faith-based groups.

Some of those participants were present at a Mass on Sunday in Rio de Janeiro to welcome participants to the Rio+20 UN Summit on Sustainable Development and to the Rio+20 People’s forum for Social and Environmental Justice.

Celebrating the Mass was the Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, Monsignor Orani Joao Tempesta together with other bishops, including Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, Permanent Observer of the Holy See at the United Nations.

Whilst world leaders, CEOs and a number of representatives of civil society take place in the 2-day UN Summit which will produce a final docuement, the People's Forum here are tens of thousands of environmental activists, indigenous peoples, aid organizations, development agencies and religious communities coming together to identify solutions to the multiple and rising crises we face as humans on planet earth.

At Rio+20, world leaders, CEOs and civil society are expected to take decisions, announce commitments and galvanize action on how we can reduce poverty and inequality and ensure environmental protection on an ever more damaged and populated planet which is fast running out of resources.

There are many urgent issues on the negotiating table and an official document should set the sustainability agenda for the next 20 years, towards identifying solutions and goals to tackle urgent global challenges, such as lack of access to energy and clean water, depleted oceans, food insecurity, widening inequalities and rapidly expanding cities.

Present at the People's Forum and a co-signatory of a joint statement signed by over 50 church and civil society leaders urging world leaders to plot a new path to a just and sustainable world, is Bernd Nilles. Secretary General of CIDSE - the International Alliance of Catholic Development Agencies, that has member organizations in 16 countries and that works with partner organizations all over the world.

Speaking to Linda Bordoni, Nilles says he was also present at a the Mass on Sunday concelebrated by bishops and priests from Brazil and around the world, and followed by a press conference during which the Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro welcomed all participants to event.

Answering the question "what contribution does the Church have to make at an event such as this?", Nilles explains that "the Church is a very important actor in the question of sustainable development". He says that "sustainable development is complex because it is about economic questions, social questions and environmental questions together and politicians find it very hard to find the appropriate answers to today's crises (...) but the Church with its Catholic social teaching has a lot to offer: principles we could follow to find a way out".

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He says he was very impressed at the Mass that was celebrated by bishop Orani Joao Tempesta and concelebrated by others including representatives of the Holy See, to hear that the human rights question is a very important one. "If we meet the rights of people we also reach the objectives of sustainable development".

Nilles says the joint statement will definetely reach the table of world leaders and says that already it has aroused interest and feedback. And he says during the week, his organization will be meeting with a number of government and UN representatives and he is hopeful that "at the end of the day some of our language and our calls will be reflected in the outcome of the summit".

Nills comments on the draft negotiating text and agrees that it is a compromise text that is far too weak and is lacking in major concrete measures and goals and does not reflect the accountability we need from governetnts in the future. However he says there is time to strengthen the language on a series of important issues.

Nilles speaks positively of the People's Forum which he says provides a platform to discuss the new development paradigm that we need.

Regarding the voice of Pope Benedict XVI who has consistently, throughout his Papacy, called for the safeguard of Creation and attention for the poor, Nilles says "his voice is for many many people very important. The Holy father" - he says - "has a very important message: he is telling the government and the people that we cannot solve the crises we have if we look at every issue in an isolated way. At Rio for example we cannot just look at the environment, we need to link the environmental issue with the social question. We need to orient our political action on human wellbeing".