The ecclesiastical environmentalist: Together we can make a difference

Meet the Catholic cleric whose new creed is to fight climate change

“Only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only after the last fish has been caught. Only then will you find money cannot be eaten.”

Not a day goes by when the Cree Indian Prophesy doesn’t become more credible. Many might have stopped believing in God and trusting the media, but Climate Change? It is the irrefutable truth of our age.

Even Catholicism, the most traditional of religions, is taking responsibility and incorporating environmentalism into its teachings.
At the forefront of its efforts is the forward-thinking Father Robert Culat, the Catholic priest for the city’s French-speaking community. He is the Ecclesiastical Environmentalist, a man on a mission to get his concerns and message across to anyone who is concerned about the future of this planet.  

Speak to him about the environment, and it’s like you have activated a volcano that has been dormant for centuries.

He rhythmically punctuates his sentences with hand-claps. He is prone to jumping in his seat when excited. When heated, he raises his voice and shouts, loudly. And when exasperated, he slaps his knees, furiously.

Because he is angry. Angry about our choices. His faith in God is strong, but his faith in mankind is in decline.

How do you include your environmental concerns in your preaching?

The environment is now a part of the social teaching of the church. Jean Paul II has written a lot about this in his teachings and the current pope as well.

And very recently the bishops of France wrote a document specifically about that. So in the official teaching of the church, it is something that is considered important.

While I don’t know about the other Catholic countries, the majority of the French Catholic population unfortunately don’t care about the environment. It might now be part of the official teaching of the church, but they don’t really care. Yes, you have faith, you go to mass, you pray, but are you environmentally concerned – no, it’s optional.

So while I preach about it on Sunday in church, it must be in relationship with the readings. It would be very artificial on my behalf to address it every Sunday.

But if there’s a connection, then I take advantage and remind them of the church’s teaching on the subject.

Still, I don’t think preaching is the most effective way to make a specific point like that. A better way could be to have meetings during the week, or in the afternoon or evening. And from this September, I’m offering the French Catholic community a chance to meet me to talk about it. But my fear is that nobody will come – because the people don’t seem to have a great interest.

Is preaching enough?

I think that obviously if we don’t give examples, our teaching has no value. For example, I have heard that in the Vatican the pope has had solar cells installed on the roof. Ha-ha! It makes me happy because it’s a sign that the hierarchy of the church has understood that in our times teachings are okay, but examples are more important. It’s sending out the message that if the church builds a new house for the parish or a new monastery, we must make it in an environmental way or not at all.

Many believe that the world’s population could be heading to an unsustainable level. Is the church’s teaching on not using contraception in any way to blame for this?

I don’t think the problem is demography itself. The problem is global economics. For example, when one country exports agricultural practices to another, it is very bad for the people living in that country’s countryside. Like India, where American genetically-modified cotton was imposed on the farmers as a miracle solution, but it was just a lie. The cotton wasn’t that good or productive, the farmers ended up in debt paying for the seeds etc, and this led to a lot of suicides.

Or Argentina. Using genetically modified agricultural methods, they are growing soya beans, but what are the consequences of that? Obviously, there is the deforestation required to find the land, and then there are the people living there. They are kicked out, but where do they go? To the great cities, and the demographic problems begin, because if you are killing the countryside with your economics and globalisation, then demography becomes a problem.

We end up with monsters like Mexico City: cities that have 20 million inhabitants, many of whom live in great poverty. That’s the problem. But it’s not demography by itself because these people were previously cultivating their portion of Earth, generation after generation. Yes, they had five or six children, but it was a necessity because they were all working in the fields, normally without machines or pesticides. They were part of a local economy, which was healthy for the earth and for the people. So when we want more and more out of the land, we are effectively digging ourselves into a hole, creating more and more poverty.

Obviously, in Europe and the USA, we have less children and are very rich, have welfare states and so on, but we are not ready, really, to share our wealth with others.

How can we make a difference?

We might have fair trade products in our shops – and part of me is happy to buy these products when I can – but when you go to Irma, what’s the percentage of their fair trade products: two percent! But if you reflect deeper, what this really means is that 98 percent of our goods are unfair trade. It’s terrible. It indicates that most of our commercial exchanges are unfair. As long as we continue to not want to pay the right price, there is no hope there could be proper development in those countries. The question is are we ready to pay more for our food or not? And when I say more it is perhaps just 10 kroner more. But that all adds up and makes a huge difference to those countries. Our choice as consumers can make a huge difference.

Find out next week which consumer choice  Father Robert Culat believes is our most important.

Factfile  |  Father Robert Culat Father Robert Culat was born in Marseille in 1968. He was raised in a “not so Catholic family” and only really discovered the church at the age of 13. It was a rapid conversion and he quickly decided he wanted to become a priest. “It was like in my child’s mind I was saying to God that if I should thank you properly for the gift of the faith, I shall become a priest,” he recalled.

Upon his 18th birthday, he embarked on his mission, studying theology at the University of Avignon for two years, taking a year out to complete his military service, and then studying for a further five years at the Pontificia Universita Gregoriana in Rome. He was ordained as a priest in 1993.

After nearly two decades in his home country, Father Robert felt the need for a change, and when the opportunity of resettling in Copenhagen came up in 2010, he jumped at it. Primarily the priest for the French-speaking Catholic community in the city from his base at Sakramentskirken (Nørrebrogade 27C, Cph N), he also conducts services, teaches and provides spiritual guidance in three other languages – English, Spanish and Italian – and speaks several others.

Moving from a Catholic country to one where the religion is a minority one has challenged Father Robert, but he believes it is actually a godsend as “people tend to be more motivated in their faith and perhaps more engaged or conscious of the importance to go to church”.

“It’s a very lively community. I would say the French community in Copenhagen is the kind many priests in France dream about having!”

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