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Pope’s voice on climate, a Gonzaga grad, offers solutions to planetary ‘indifference and despair’ in talk at alma mater

Cardinal Michael Czerny, a Jesuit and Gonzaga University graduate, speaks Thursday night at Gonzaga’s Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

A Catholic cardinal and Gonzaga University graduate explored the intersections between faith and climate change in a lecture at the school Thursday evening.

“Science and faith share core values and purpose capable of healing the world, but neither in isolation,” Cardinal Michael Czerny said at the event hosted by Gonzaga’s Center for Climate, Society and the Environment.

In his talk, Czerny discussed Pope Francis’ second encyclical, “Laudato si’: On Care for Our Common Home,” which explores the ecological crisis and critiques modern consumerism.

Czerny, who graduated from Gonzaga in 1968 with a degree in philosophy and literature, is the pope’s choice to lead the Catholic Church on climate. His official title is “Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.”

He has long been an advocate for human rights.

Early in his career, he assumed the director’s role of the University of Central America’s Institute for Human Rights, replacing one of six priests who were killedslain in El Salvador. He later worked with the United Nations to mediate an end to that country’s civil war.

In 2002, he founded the African Jesuit AIDS Network, leading the organization for nine years in coordinating efforts in nearly 30 African countries.

To him, caring for the climate means caring for our neighbors. He includes among his neighbors Indigenous peoples and migrants whose homelands have deteriorated as a result of climate change.

We must look beyond tribalism, he said.

“We need to speak more of eco-justice today, especially in our universities,” he said.

Nowadays, the problems facing the climate are common knowledge, so action is needed.

“The problem now isn’t ignorance,” he said, “the real problem instead is indifference and despair.”

In facing the climate crisis, it can be tempting to ask, “Where is God in all this?”

“Blaming God is not helpful,” he said. “Re-ask the question: Where am I and where are we in all this?”

The best antidote to despair and anxiety is action, Czerny said, and dialogue is a vital part of that action.

“Dialogue and better politics are the only way out,” he said.

Universities, such as Gonzaga, have a role to play in fostering that dialogue.

“Universities once again need to become incubators of critical thinkers and hotbeds of action.”

He also said more dialogue is needed between disciplines.

Czerny was born in Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic, in 1946 before his family immigrated to Canada in 1948.

He was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1973, and Pope Francis made him a cardinal in 2019.

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.