Bells, banners and appeals from faith groups in Copenhagen

Bells, banners and appeals from faith groups in Copenhagen

By Ecumenical News International
15 Dec 2009

Bells pealed as a warning on climate change after the Archbishop of Canterbury told a church service in Copenhagen on Sunday 13 December, attended by people from major faiths and Christian denominations, that humanity can only show love to all by making the earth a secure home - writes Peter Kenny.

Archbishop Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the 77-million strong Anglican Communion, preached the main sermon before Danish royalty, Denmark's Prime Minister and religious leaders in the packed Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen's Lutheran cathedral.

"We cannot show the right kind of love for our fellow humans unless we also work at keeping the earth as a place that is a secure home for all people," Williams said at the 13 December service described as "an ecumenical celebration for creation".

The service marked the midpoint of United Nations-organised talks in the Danish capital to reach agreement on limiting the emissions held responsible for causing climate change.

The Danish monarch, Queen Margrethe II, attended the service for which members of the public snaked around the block on which the cathedral stands, trying to squeeze in, only for many of them to be turned away.

Williams told the congregation, "The deepest religious basis for our commitment to the environment in which God has placed us, is this recognition that we are called to be, and are enabled to be, the place where God's love for the world comes through.

"We have to flesh out in our lives that fundamental biblical conviction that when God looks on the world he finds it good. We have to show in our lives some echo of the delight God finds in creation."

The dean of Copenhagen Cathedral, the Rev Anders Gadegaard, told the congregation, "As we light our candles, passing the flames to our neighbours, we give light to each other. Let us bring this sign of hope with us into the world."

This was the signal for the cathedral to begin the chiming of its bells 350 times, joined by other churches in Denmark, Scandinavia and the rest of central Europe. Churches worldwide had been invited to ring bells and other instruments 350 times at 3 pm local time in solidarity with the service in Copenhagen.

Before the Copenhagen service, the pealing of bells had begun on the island of Fiji in the South Pacific and would end later in California.

The number 350 represents the particles per million that is the acceptable level of carbon dioxide emission, according to the United Nations.

Delegations from 192 countries at the UN meeting in Copenhagen have the task of trying to agree what should follow on from the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol, a UN brokered agreement aimed at limiting emissions of greenhouse gases that lead to climate change. The protocol expires at the end of 2012.

Shortly before the service, police with bomb-sniffing dogs combed the church and its surrounding area as a helicopter hovered over the nearby parliament and city hall to keep an eye on the centre of the Danish capital.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, enthralled thousands of people braving the cold weather as he took part in a petition handover before the cathedral service. The former anti-apartheid campaigner roared out to the crowd with a gusto that showed the 78-year-old one-time Anglican archbishop of Cape Town still brims with the energy to protest.

Standing before Copenhagen City Hall, Tutu handed the petition with 512 894 signatures to Yvo de Boer, the United Nations' top climate official.

"Here we are today marching and demonstrating the injustice of climate change - 500 000 thousand have signed. Half a million signatures - that is fantastic," enthused Tutu, dressed in a grey worker's cap and heavy overcoat. "Persuade them to be smart like you," said Tutu as he handed the petition calling for climate justice to de Boer.

De Boer replied to a crowd of a few thousand, "Next week about 120 heads of states and governments are going to be here. So, let your voices be heard."

The day before, not far from the same spot, a group of church-led protestors had gathered in front of the cathedral, which was draped with a banner painted with the words "Time for climate change". There, Archbishop Williams gave a speech in which he urged support for actions to combat climate change.

One of the organisers of the globally backed church-led action is DanChurchAid, or DCA, which seeks to improve the lives of the poorest and to alleviate poverty. DCA has an office adjacent to the Copenhagen cathedral.

The agency says it is working for a global climate protocol that can curb the consequences of climate change, while protecting the rights to social and economical development of those in the poorest countries. DCA says that any deal reached at Copenhagen must heed the UN's 2015 Millennium Development Goals of eradicating hunger and extreme poverty.

The UN climate meeting has seen the Danish capital daubed with posters proclaiming, "Hopenhagen".

"The goal is to negotiate a climate deal with binding targets, and renew the Kyoto Protocol," says DCA.

A crowd that police estimated at 30 000 but which organisers put at 100 000, and which ranged in ages from babies in pushchairs to people in their eighties, took to the streets of the Danish capital on 12 December. Some demonstrators wore suits emblazoned with a ticking clock with the DanChurchAid slogan, "Time for climate justice".

Faith-based protestors joined this mass of humanity made up from a rainbow coalition ranging from hardline activists to concerned families carrying inflatable icebergs. Some people were dressed in polar bear suits, others as clowns. Many carried placards that read, "Blab bla - act now", or "There is no planet B".

A small group carried the red hammer and sickle communist flag or signs reading, "Toxic capitalism". Another sign read, "Save the planet, scrap capitalism." On a cold and sunny day, virtually the entire march towards the UN climate conference's Bella Centre a few kilometres away was loud and peaceful with a carnival atmosphere.

Still, police confronted one small group clad head-to toe in black that was seen hurling street cobbles and smashing shop windows.

Police detained more than 900 people under a local law for the rest of the demonstration but released almost all of them later as the 11-day global gathering in Copenhagen continued in a frenetic dash for a deal to set binding climate standards that would ensure a secure earth.

* Video clip of Desmond Tutu's speech handing petition to Yvo de Boer: www.danchurchaid.org/

* Sound recording of speeches by Desmond Tutu and Yvo de Boer (16 min, 15 MB):
http://bit.ly/DesmondTutuAndYvoDeBoerCOP15

* Sound recording of the press conference at Copenhagen Cathedral (38 min, 36 MB)
http://bit.ly/DesmondTutuPressConfCOP15

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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