In November, governments from across the world gather to discuss how to tackle the climate emergency at COP26. It’s therefore vital for the Catholic community to demand that our leaders act now to protect our common home. With that in mind, CAFOD has been encouraging all to meet up with their MP to discuss how to rebuild from the pandemic in a way that tackles the major global issues of our time, including climate change and unjust foreign debts. Several parishes in the Northampton diocese have already done this. One of them was Sacred Heart, Leighton Buzzard. Mary Flach, parish volunteer writes:
When the push came from CAFOD to arrange a pre-COP26 meeting with our MP as part of the ‘Reclaim our common home’ campaign, it was one that I knew that I could quickly dismiss. The climate is such a complicated issue, plus I am not the sort who talks to politicians. A phone call from Debbie, our ever persuasive diocesan Community Participation Coordinator, somehow convinced me otherwise. She gently persuaded me that MPs aren’t demi-gods and what was needed was a conversation, letting them know of our concern, rather than quoting depressing facts, figures or solutions.
The meeting was the sort of thing that our parish Justice and Peace group would have been interested in organising, but being located near the boundary edge, several of our group fall into the neighbouring constituency. As our MP, Andrew Selous – MP for Southwest Bedfordshire, is openly Christian, we felt a joint inter-denominational meeting might be more effective than that a purely Catholic delegation.
We had a very warm response from Andrew when we contacted him to request a meeting and he allocated us a 2 hour slot in August. Despite clashes with work, childcare duties and holidays, 13 representatives from 3 different denominations lined up to become the 75th constituency in England and Wales to meet on Zoom with their MP as part of CAFOD’s ‘Parliament in your Parish’ initiative.
In the event, our allocated date coincided with the emergency recall of parliament to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. We had feared that our meeting would be cancelled, but our MP confirmed that he was prepared to leave this debate which over-ran, to keep his engagement with us, signifying that our concerns and the issues we raised were of great importance to him too.
We had pre-planned questions on climate change, aid cuts and debt relief and although clearly towing the Conservative party line, Andrew was able to talk about areas where he didn’t feel the government was going fast or far enough. We asked him if he had 3 wishes, what would he hope would come out of COP26? Interestingly it was that China, Russia, India and Brazil (-yes, I know that’s 4!) would become truly engaged in the climate issue and advocated that we write to their Ambassadors/High Commissions to face them with our concerns – failure to get them to significantly reduce their CO2 output would “blow the whole planet”, even if the rest of went to net zero tomorrow.
As a Christian who openly stated that he thought that the aid budget should be maintained at 0.7%, we were able to quiz him as to why he’d voted against this and with the government. He enlightened us about how he would lose his governmental roles and hence his influence if he voted against them and how he felt that he needed these in order to continue the behind-the-scenes diplomacy which he felt to be most effective. He voiced that it was nice to spend time with people like us defending the expenditure on aid as he hears from far more people attacking it rather than defending it and thanked us for carrying the candle for aid.
The dialogue was very open and free and there were several points that he promised to investigate further and get back to us on. It was also hugely positive to have had this contact with other local churches, to feel part of a bigger body of concern for our planet and vulnerable communities and to hopefully empower our MP to uphold Christian values and cherish the world that God has made.
A big thank you to Mary and all those who organised and showed up for the event. Thanks also goes to Andrew Selous MP for attending and discussing issues which are important to the Christian community. We look forward to hearing his feedback on those several points.