Tag Archives: Vatican

Mongabay: Ahead of COP28, pope spurs policymakers, faith leaders to push climate action

The Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Reports from inside the Vatican say that Pope Francis is considering attending COP28. If he attends, Francis would be the first pope to do so since the COP climate summits were initiated in Berlin in 1995. Image courtesy of the Vatican.

This story is a follow up to my breaking news story in early October regarding Pope Francis‘ spirited addendum to his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si in defense of planet earth. In his concise, 13-page letter to “people of all faiths,” the pope makes clear his grave disappointment in leaders of the industrialized world to act with urgency to combat the accelerating climate crisis.

My goal with the follow up story, planned in consultation with my Mongabay editor Glenn Scherer, was to interview a range of sources in religious climate activism, theologians and climate policy makers. The timing of the new papal letter, called Laudate Deum, is clearly designed to challenge the national leaders who will meet in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in early December for the 28th United Nations climate summit. My sources weighed in not only the Francis’ new criticisms and exhortations but also described a faith-based movement for climate action that emerged after the 2015 Paris Agreement in decline and disarray.

My first call was to the Rev. Fletcher Harper, executive director of New York City-based GreenFaith, whom I first met in Paris at the 21st climate summit, and who has been a good source ever since.

“Most religious organizations and leaders, with few exceptions, are not doing enough,” Harper told me. “Once-a-year sermons are not enough. Building gardens behind your church or temple or mosque are not enough. We need people willing to stand up to governments and major financial institutions and say: ‘You are destroying the planet. And you have to stop.’ ”

Other sources weighed in thoughtfully about the pope’s moral authority, the struggle for climate action in Latin America, and the need for a moral compass in the upcoming climate negotiations. It’s a lot. And this pope is once again doing what no other global leader is doing with such clarity. With time running out to slow the rate of global warming and thus head off even worse impacts from climate change, the question remains: are people listening?

The Rev. Fletcher Harper, an Episcopal pastor and executive director of New York City-based GreenFaith, a religious climate-action group with chapters worldwide. He plans to be at COP28. Image courtesy of GreenFaith.

Mongabay: Pope Francis condemns world leaders for deeply flawed UN climate process

Pope Francis, spiritual leader of 1.3 billion Catholics around the world, has long been a defender of the environment and all its biodiversity, like his namesake, St. Francis. Photo by Visualhunt

I learned in early September from a close friend and good Catholic that Pope Francis would release an addendum to Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home. That historic and landmark encyclical on the defense of the planet, excoriated the greed, consumption and bad policy decisions that were driving climate change and damaging “God’s creation.” I knew immediately that I would be returning to a favorite beat of mine, the intersection of faith and climate action. With Laudate Deum, just 13 pages (compared to 180 pages in Laudato Si), Francis emerges again as perhaps the strongest, most authoritative voice in the world for aggressive environmental protection while unsparingly identifying those who are standing in the way.

This story here reports the breaking news from the document, release October 4 by the Vatican on the Catholic feast day of St. Francis, the pope’s nature-loving namesake. I will follow soon with an in-depth global reaction to Laudate Deum and an analysis of how faith leaders are — and are not — meeting the pope’s challenge to protect natural places, reduce consumption and pushback against political leaders who seek to enrich themselves and their allies at the expense of their communities, the poor and the planet itself.

From Laudate Deum, the pope writes: “Eight years have passed since I published the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, when I wanted to share with all of you, my brothers and sisters of our suffering planet, my heartfelt concerns about the care of our common home. Yet, with the passage of time, I have realized that our responses have not been adequate, while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point.”

“We can do this, if we act now,” reads a slogan at COP26, the climate summit in Glasgow, UK in 2021. Year-after-year world leaders, their national representatives, cadres of fossil fuel industry lobbyists, and climate activists fly to remote urban locales to try and influence climate negotiations that since the 2015 Paris agreement have yielded little forward motion. Meanwhile, surges in carbon emissions, fossil fuel subsidies, and dangerous climate impacts continue apace. Image by Justin Catanoso for Mongabay.

Mongabay: Pope makes impassioned plea to save the Amazon — will the world listen?

Pope Francis meets Jose Gregorio Diaz Mirabal, a member of the Curripaco indigenous community, during a session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican, October 8, 2019. Image courtesy of CNS photo/Vatican Media.

On February 12, 2020, with a letter to “all persons of good will,” Pope Francis sought to reclaim the mantle of global environmental leadership he established in mid-2015. That’s when he the released of the first-ever papal encyclical (Catholic teaching document of the highest order) on environmental protection and climate change — Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home.

My story for Mongay here picks up that thread with Dear Amazon, a papal letter in response to the first-ever Vatican meeting in October 2019 to focus on a specific region of the planet — Amazonia. While topics at the so-called synod focused largely on environmental protection and the rights of the indigenous peoples who live in those jungles, the mainstream coverage of Francis’ letter focused almost solely on his decision to not allow priests to marry who agree to serve in the dramatically underserved Amazon regions spread across eight countries.

This left an opening for me to write a kind of exclusive about the pope’s environmental and social justice message, which makes up the vast majority of Dear Amazon. The story idea was pitched to me by my inimitable editor Glenn Scherer. I was glad for the opportunity.

Pope Francis at the opening Mass for the Amazon synod October 6, 2019. The administration of President Jair Bolsonaro was highly critical of the synod, seeing it as  interference with Brazil’s internal affairs. Image by Daniel Ibanez / CNA.

Mongabay: People of all faiths face climate change with hope, action, urgency

Activists display banners calling for action on climate change and against world poverty as they arrive on St. Peter's Square prior to Pope Francis' Sunday Angelus prayer at the Vatican.

Two years after Pope Francis launched Laudato Si, the Vatican’s plea to save the earth, Trump rejected its tenets and the Paris Agreement. But people of all faiths are unified globally to beat climate change. Here’s my story in Mongabay. Thanks to editor Glenn Scherer for assigning this follow-up to a series of related stories I wrote from Rome, Peru and Paris in 2015-16.

The Vatican’s Cardinal Turkson: Pushback on the papal encyclical? Mostly in America

  1. Link to the fuller Mongabay.com story is here.

    Cardinal Peter Turkson, (right) the pope's point person on the papal encyclical. Photo by Justin Catanoso

    Cardinal Peter Turkson, (right) the pope’s point person on the papal encyclical. Photo by Justin CatanosoYou

    You take your opportunities where you can get them. I have been in email contact with Marcus Wandinger (left, above), a member of the Holy See Delegation to COP 21, for two days. This morning, he put me in a position to meet the cardinal Pope Francis put in charge of researching and writing Laudato Si, On Care of Our Common Home, the widely influential papal encyclical on environmental protection. I managed to wrangle a 15-minute interview. It will factor into a larger story I will write for mongabay.com, but here’s an excerpt.

    Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana told me about how the Vatican and Catholic delegates have been fanning out around the world to educate bishops, seminaries and parish priests on the encyclical, and how to teach it to their followers. Asked where he is getting push back, he didn’t hesitate: “Your country, the United States.

    “The U.S. has many places that are stubborn. When we talk about social responsibility, they think about Socialism. That’s unfortunate. This is about doing good work. The pope believes faith without works is worthless. We must we live it, and it must play out so that we can show others what we do. That’s how the Jesuits teach it. It’s not Communism or Socialism or anything like that. It is caring for our common home. But that’s a hard message to get across in some American parishes.”

Mongabay.com: Pope’s environmental encyclical arrives in Peru to mixed reviews

Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change and environmental protection. Released at the Vatican in June 2015

Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change and environmental protection. Released at the Vatican in June 2015. Photo by Justin Catanoso

In early May, Jon Sawyer, founder and executive director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, asked me to take on a special assignment. He believed it was tailor-made for me. The topic: Pope Francis’ upcoming already-controversial encyclical, or Catholic, teaching document on climate change and environment protection. The premise: how is the document being received in Latin American, the popular pope’s home region. I was honored to accept the assignment.

After being able to cover the Vatican press conference on June 18 while in Rome with my Wake Forest travel writing students, I traveled to Peru twice during the summer — a total of three weeks — to report the story. I was joined by incredible professionals such as guide and consultant Enrique Ortiz, fixer Aldo Villanueava, photographer Jason Houston, and for two weeks, my daughter Emilia Catanoso, who was my first photographer.

I was proud that my first stories were published on one of the nation’s most respected environmental web sites, mongabay.com. Here’s a link to the first story.

Jesus Cornejo, one of the most courageous men I've ever met. He is featured in the story. Photo by Enrique Ortiz

Jesus Cornejo, one of the most courageous men I’ve ever met. He is featured in the story. Photo by Enrique Ortiz


Roman Holiday: Three Spectacular Domes

The glorious ceiling inside St. Ignatius of Loyola in Rome

The glorious ceiling inside St. Ignatius of Loyola in Rome

In this travel story, printed in a Wells Fargo custom magazine, I write about three of my favorite domes in Rome. There are hundreds of them, of course, and favorites can shift from day to day. But these? They are always near the top, and always worth visiting again and again.

Roman Holiday: Three Spectacular Domes

By Justin Catanoso

It happens every time I visit Rome. My pulse quickens as I near the city’s historic center. It’s not the chaotic traffic that has my blood pressure rising, nor the anticipation of one marvelous meal after another. Like a lover separated from his partner for too long, my heart races at the first sight of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

There it is, tall and majestic, off in the distance, across the Tiber River, high on a hill. It dominates this ancient skyline and announces in no uncertain terms that you are entering a place of architectural wonders.

Rome is a city of domes. There are scores of them topping churches and cathedrals, baths and basilicas. They are visually arresting from street level. But with three domes in particular, a special experience awaits you if you get closer, if you look closely or if you’re there at the right time.

Take the steps. Resist the urge, after a long wait in line, to go directly into St. Peter’s cavernous interior. Instead, shell out 5 euros and ascend the 551 steps to the cupola atop the dome. Midway up, you will enter a walkway that circles the famous main alter of St. Peter’s far below. It feels a little bit like heaven there. Light streams in through 16 tall windows.

Unseen from the floor, but now at eye level, a ring of plump cherubs in gold and silver mosaics by Baroque artist Cavaliere D’Arpino surround you. Before reaching the top, wander the roof of the basilica. Only there can you see the carved coat of arms of Pope Sixtus V – lions roaring above garlands of pears and flowers – around the base of the dome. It’s an apt honor. Sixtus, who made sure Michelangelo’s design was strictly followed, died the year the dome was completed, 1590.

Don’t be fooled. When is a dome not exactly a dome? When it’s tromp l’oeil, or French for optical illusion. The grand Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, in the historic center of Rome, was supposed to have an imposing dome to crown its sanctuary. It was never built. The casual observer would never know it. Baroque artist Andrea Pozza, working in St. Ignatius in the late 1600s, was a master of tricking the eye. The nave ceiling fresco appears to open directly to the sky above.

Beyond the nave is what looks like the dimly lit vault of a dome. Eight marble ribs appear to arch upward to support a windowed cupola. It’s only when you walk in farther and stand beneath the “dome” that you realize you’ve been fooled. There’s no dome, only a huge round canvas stretched flat and painted to look like one.

Raining roses. It is quite natural, when standing inside the Pantheon in Rome, to stare transfixed at the nearly 2,000-year-old ceiling of the dome. It’s a marvel of advanced architectural achievement from an ancient world. I’m always astonished by its precise roundness, its honeycombed beauty, its unblinking oculus. I often think the sight is so powerful that it cannot be improved upon.

But on Pentecost Sunday, which comes seven weeks after Easter, it happens. During a long, elaborate Mass, Roman firemen clamor on top of the dome to the lip of the oculus with huge bags of red roses pedals. As the Mass ends and music swells, the firemen empty their bags to a collective gasp of excitement. When I was there in June, a thick shaft of light angled through the oculus. Rose pedals shimmered and fluttered through the light. People reached to grab as many pedals as they could.

All by itself, any day of the week, the Pantheon is one of Rome’s most incredible sights. But in one burst of color and magic that lasts a few minutes just once a year, the Pantheon and its glorious dome are rendered even more incredible.

Witnessing a young Pope John Paul II’s passion

While having lunch last spring with good friend David Ford of WFDD, I told him about the time my wife and I — during our honeymoon in 1984 — witnessed the charismatic aura of Pope John Paul II while visiting the Vatican. Ford liked the story so much that we headed straight back to the studio to record it, unscripted. It aired right around the time of the former pope’s canonization. You can hear the recording here.

AOL Travel: Popes John Paul II, John XXIII: A Saint’s Cousin on Being a Pilgrim in St. Peter’s Square for a Canonization


On the occasion of Pope Francis canonizing two of his beloved predecessors in April 2014, Zach Everson at AOL Travel asked if I would write about story about the spectacle of canonization in Rome from the perspective of someone who had a good reason in 2005 to attend one. I was glad to do it. The story is here.

Excerpt: “On that memorable day, my family and I –- more than 60 of us from America, each of us bursting with pride –- crowded into St. Peter’s Square for what was Benedict’s first canonization ceremony. Rome goes crazy for these events. Stores and restaurants, not to mention buses and cars, are festooned with posters of the saints-to-be. Everywhere we looked in the vicinity of the Vatican, we saw our family name and cousin’s gentle smile. We felt like special guests at a giddy global block party.”