Faith leaders from several denominations and multiple countries gathered on Dec. 3 at CathÄ—drale Notre Dame de Paris (Notre Dame Cathedral) as diplomats from more than 190 nations meet in Paris for the two-week COP21 United Nations climate conference.
The Conseil d’Ä–glises chrÄ—tiennes en France (CÄ–CEF), or the Council of Christian Churches in France, organized the special worship service.
The three key clergy were Georges Pontier, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Marseille and president of the Bishops’ Conference of France; Emmanuel Adamakis, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of France; and FranÃ§ois Clavairoly, president of the French Protestant Federation.
The famous cathedral bells danced and sang just before the service. Christians concerned about creation then rang out a message mixed with concern and hope.
Planned to draw attention to Christian concerns about climate change as the critical talks neared the halfway mark, the service included the reading of the statement by the CÄ–CEF about COP21.
The statement notes, “Humanity and the earth it inhabits are the result of God’s creative plan.” It also acknowledges “the grave threats facing the world due to climate change” and “the immeasurable suffering it causes.”
“We are particularly concerned for the weakest and poorest among us,” the statement continues.
In the same place that kings from multiple nations were married and crowned, clergy urged political leaders from numerous countries to act during COP21 “so that the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters and future generations do not suffer more.”
The statement also urges people to “experience conversion” on destructive environmental lifestyles.
“Our hope as Christians rests in our belief that our world is not destined to disappear but to be transformed,” the statement adds, “and that human beings capable of self-destruction are also able to unite and to choose that which is good.”
Outside of the statement – which, like the Scriptures and some of the songs, was offered in French and English – the service followed traditional liturgical forms. However, words about loving God, caring for God’s creation and helping neighbors were woven throughout the service.
Clergy from Christian traditions marched in to start the service as the opening organ music filled the massive Gothic Cathedral.
The sound waves followed paths taken by music for more than 650 years, bouncing off the naturalistic stained glass, arches and statues.
The opening hymn offered praises to “the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.” Scriptures read often focused on issues of justice.
Candles lit by pilgrims glowed along the sides of the cathedral. Smoke from the little lights softly swirled upward with prayers by Christians from around the world, who trekked to Paris in hopes of seeing a comprehensive deal to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change.
A responsive reading included declarations about the “Creator God,” giving thanks “to God for the creation that God has entrusted to us” and urging each other to “contemplate and marvel at the diversity and wealth of creation.”
“Creation is suffering because of us,” another responsive reading offered. “The land has deteriorated. Jesus Christ calls us to vigilance and commitment.”
The readings also included references to violence experienced recently in France and other nations. Terrorists killed 130 people in Paris less than three weeks earlier.
“Our faith abides in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace,” the reading declared in response to terrorism. “In his name we commit to act and pray for peace together. In our different languages, let us share Christ’s peace with one another.”
The prayer for peace echoed in the cathedral, which itself survived damage during multiple wars and multiple campaigns of vandalism by those with differing religious convictions. Prayers later in the service asked God to provide “peace in our time.”
“God of justice and peace, our prayers rise to you for each victim of terrorist violence and war,” clergy prayed. “God of love and mercy, our prayers rise to you, for peace and for the whole creation.”
Crossing national, linguistic and denominational lines, those gathered were called during the service “pilgrims” and “citizens of the world.”
The service ended with everyone reciting “The Lord’s Prayer” in their own languages, with an untold number of languages melding together.
Many Christian leaders who attended the special service continue to appear each day at COP21 to urge diplomats to act.
As the special service was mentioned in conversations the next day, the prayers of one evening and the advocacy of the next morning merged.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.