Fr Edwin Gariguez, a Filipino priest, CAFOD partner and environmental activist, delivered an inspiring talk to CAFOD supporters at Leeds cathedral last week.
A prayer inspired by Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Laudato Si’, opened the talk and set the scene for an evening focused on “care for our common home”.
Fr Edwin then spoke of the environmental situation in the Philippines and the many threats that the country must face as a result of climate change. Asia holds around 60% of the world’s population; it also holds the poorest of people. Fr Edwin emphasised the injustice of the situation; people living in poverty contribute the least to climate change, yet they are affected the most. He stated that environmental disasters unfairly punish the vulnerable.
Poverty and climate change are linked and we must do all we can to address the key issue for our generation. The main threats to the Philippines are instances of extreme weather, such as cyclones and typhoons. Shockingly, Fr Edwin revealed that three cyclones were headed towards the Philippines as he spoke!
Following the devastating Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, Fr Edwin worked closely with the Filipino people and experienced the destruction first-hand. Fr Edwin told us the official statistics, however his personal stories and photographs from directly after the typhoon, were what truly conveyed the magnitude of the disaster.
Fr Edwin is a key member of NASSA (Caritas Philippines), CAFOD’s equivalent agency in the Philippines, and so both organisations have worked extensively with each other, especially after Typhoon Haiyan. As a result of CAFOD’s campaigning and the fundraising efforts across Britain, over £3 million has been raised to help the people of the Philippines. Fr Edwin expressed his gratitude to the Leeds diocese, this fantastic amount will go towards giving people living in poverty a better life.
In addition to giving thanks, Fr Edwin spoke of some of his other environmental activism. In the 1990s, a mining corporation threatened to destroy the indigenous Filipino’s way of life, as well as pollute the local area, by opening a nickel mine. The area was the ancestral home of the Mindoro people but corporate land-grabbing was set to ruin it forevermore; Fr Edwin people realised that he must act.
Mass protesting and activism, teamed with an eleven day hunger strike, meant that the governments had to listen- the planned mine was cancelled and pollution prevented. For his efforts, Fr Edwin was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, a significant honour for an individual committed to helping others. In Fr Edwin’s own words, “Protecting the rights of the poor takes precedence over corporate greed.”
To close the evening, Fr Edwin spoke of the Filipino resiliency; their admirable ability to bounce back and remain strong when faced with adversity. He put this down to their faith and the belief that God will always help; hope is never in short supply. He also encouraged everyone to tackle climate change following Laudato Si’; Pope Francis’ message was reiterated heavily throughout the evening: we cannot afford to be apathetic, we must work together and take real action.
Fr Edwin left us with a quote: “It is better to take less, than to give more.” A powerful and relevant message from a truly inspirational figure.