Here’s to Laudato Si’: Climate activist touts pope’s message in Twin Cities

| September 19, 2019 | 0 Comments

From left, Anne Cullen Miller, president of Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota, talks with Tomás Insua, founder of Global Catholic Climate Movement, during Insua’s visit of CCF’s headquarters in St. Paul Sept. 17. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Tomás Insua took a trip to the Philippines in 2014 that changed his life.

The 32-year-old native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, was deeply troubled by what he saw in the poverty-stricken country in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the region in 2013, killing at least 6,300. Insua visited areas hard hit by the typhoon, considered one of the strongest tropical cyclones on record, and he came home resolved to do something about it.

In 2015, he founded an organization called Global Catholic Climate Movement, which has nearly 900 member organizations in countries around the world, including the U.S. Firm in his belief that the increase in weather-related events like hurricanes, tornadoes and floods is connected to climate change caused by human actions like the burning of fossil fuels, Insua hopes to increase awareness of the issue and rally people to change behaviors individually and collectively to better care for the environment.

To that end, he visited the U.S. this month and made a stop in the Twin Cities. He met with the staff of the Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota Sept. 17, having been invited to Minnesota by its president, Anne Cullen Miller, who had met him in 2018 and wanted her staff to hear him speak about GCCM.

Earlier that day, Insua met with faculty, staff, students and President Julie Sullivan at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. UST became a member of GCCM last month and just released a comprehensive sustainability strategic plan expressing its commitment to the ideas espoused by GCCM and by Pope Francis in his encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” which is the driving force behind all that GCCM does.

“Our mission is to bring ‘Laudato Si’’ to life,” Insua explained in his presentation to CCF at its St. Paul headquarters. It is his hope “that this beautiful document from the pope doesn’t remain just a document, but we really live it.”

Pope Francis visited the Philippines in January 2015 and released Laudato Si’ later that year. Insua said he thinks the pope’s trip may have inspired and informed the encyclical, which was published in June 2015.

“Laudato Si’” marks the “first time ever in two millennia that the Church has an encyclical letter on ecology,” Insua noted. “That illustrates the level of importance that our pope gives to the issue.”

The effects of global climate change have reached the level of a crisis, and now is the time to act, Insua said.

The University of St. Thomas has stepped up its efforts at sustainability, which goes hand in hand with the tenets of GCCM, said Amir Nadav, assistant director of Campus Sustainability, who came to Insua’s presentation along with Chris Thompson of The St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, who teaches about ecology at the seminary and wrote a book integrating “Laudato Si’” with 10 years of his research on ecology.

Nadav came to St. Thomas in 2017 and was asked to help develop a comprehensive system of sustainability, or using but not depleting resources. The project involved talking with students, faculty and staff to hear their ideas on what sustainability means and how to achieve it.

Among the actions taken at St. Thomas is what Nadav calls “the collection of organics,” or composting. This summer, the St. Paul campus installed bins for compostable materials next to every trash or recycling bin. The idea is to divert as much waste material from landfills as possible. UST’s goal is to increase from its current diversion rate of 55 percent to 80 percent.

“That’s something that our students have been very excited about,” Nadav said. “We’re trying to support the circular economy and move to a system where there really is no waste — whatever we throw away can be recycled or reused.”

Nadav said he sees joining GCCM “as being aligned with the steps we plan to take over the next few years.” UST also has been working to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, and signed The American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2008.

Looking ahead, UST’s membership in GCCM opens the door to further collaboration with other organizations to address the issue of global climate change, said Cara Anthony, associate professor of theology at St. Thomas, who attended Insua’s presentation.

“It calls (on) universities to be resources for their diocese,” Anthony said. “And, I think that’s an exciting prospect of collaboration between St. Thomas as a Catholic university and the (arch)diocese (of St. Paul and Minneapolis).”

“We’ve done this kind of collaboration between classrooms and local city governments,” she said. “And, the same model could work very well for parishes. Having said that, classes that I teach have visited and interacted with the local parishes, mostly around having climate conversations and sharing understandings of how caring for creation and the common good is deeply rooted in Catholic tradition.”

The Catholic Community Foundation, a nonprofit that stewards the financial resources of Catholic individuals, families, parishes and institutions, hopes that Insua’s visit will continue to raise awareness of the importance of caring for the environment. Miller said she envisions focusing on this topic at a future CCF Giving Insights forum series, in which panelists are assembled to share knowledge and interact with people attending.

Having visited with UST and CCF, Insua said he would consider offering the opportunity for the archdiocese to participate in a pilot program, in which GCCM would offer resources to help the archdiocese be carbon neutral by 2030 or 2035.
“I think the conditions are there for making something happen (here),” he said.

After Insua returns to Rome following his U.S. tour, he will set his sights on furthering the work of GCCM worldwide.

“‘Laudato Si’,’ despite being very rooted in the tragic reality of the ecological crisis, (Pope Francis) still emphasizes a lot the room for hope,” Insua said, “which is in our Christian DNA. We know that death is followed by resurrection, is followed by life. The cross is followed by resurrection. We know that things can change, as the pope likes to say.”

GCCM offers resources to organizations and individuals, though only organizations can become members. For more information on GCCM and membership, which is free, visit

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