A Time to Speak — The effects of climate change on the poor

Father James Flynn

By Father James Flynn

When four Nicaraguans recently spoke at Bellarmine University about the hunger, a very severe drought, pests damaging bean plants and coffee trees and the emigration of many poor farmers from their parish, their words quickly put a face on Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’,” which points out that when climate change degrades the environment the poor suffer most.

The four visitors — Pablo Diaz Hernandez, José Bermudez, Maria Agustina Espinoza Gonzalez and Leonardo Cisneros — from the parish of Our Lord of Esquipulas in Esquipulas, Nicaragua, shared with an audience of students and visitors their experiences of climate change happening in the daily lives of the poor in the 23 communities of their parish scattered around their mountains.

Via Powerpoint, Pablo Diaz Hernandez said that climate change may not be believed or may even be met with indifference by some, but it’s a daily reality for his communities.

He noted that farmers in his parish suffer from a rise in temperatures, loss of crops due to lack of rain, fewer sources of water, lower returns on what they can produce and the appearance of new kinds of insects.

Because those effects are experienced daily, Pablo said that the bishop of his diocese demanded that priests preach about the encyclical, adding the words of Pope Francis to the experiences of farmers, that, “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system,” paragraph 23 of Laudato Si’.

The bishop urged priests and teachers to speak about it in schools and religion classes. In fact, Pablo added, the bishop led a procession of 40,000 people to protest the presence of a Canadian gold mining company in the area which could further damage increasingly scarce water sources.

Leonardo Cisneros shared the efforts of his team to help 76 farming families, most of them headed by single women.

These women participate in organic farming and nutrition projects supported by Esquipulas’ sister parish, St. William Church in Louisville. Farmers have received seeds and have learned how to plant and harvest vegetables, dramatically improving the usual diet of beans and native fruits.

In addition to those projects, Maria Espinoza noted that filters for obtaining drinkable water have greatly improved the health of children of less than 7 years of age. Those filters were also provided by St. William parishioners and friends.

José Bermudez spoke about these projects that have helped to stem the emigration of farmers to Costa Rica. But he also hoped they’d expand their projects, especially to other women in other parish communities, women left as single mothers because many men have emigrated.

In their own experiences, these four people — serving the poorest peoples — underscored the words of Pope Francis’ encyclical in paragraph 51: “The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas … where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming.”

At Bellarmine, four visitors from Nicaragua offered their voices on behalf of poor farming families. In this way they shared the voice of Pope Francis in paragraph 49: “A true ecological approach … must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

Father James Flynn is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville who has worked for decades in peace and justice issues related to Latin America. He currently serves Latino communities in Louisville.

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