An Irish nun from Cricklewood is travelling to Paris this week as part of a Cafod delegation to join thousands of people calling on world leaders to tackle climate change
By Brian O’Connell
Sixty-nine year old retired teacher, Sister Christina McGarry OP, told The Irish World
“My message to world leaders gathering at the COP21 United Nations conference is that we must stop using fossil fuels and stop funding overseas projects which damage the environment.”
Last month research carried out for Catholic aid agency Cafod showed that the British government had spent over two billion pounds in poor countries to help build coal power plants and other fossil fuel energy projects responsible for global warming.
Sister Christina, who has worked for 29 years in South Africa and for 12 years in Rome, will join campaigners from across Europe urging people to live more sustainably.
She joined Cafod when she came to London and describes the quiet suburban St Rose’s Convent in Cricklewood where she now lives with four other Dominican nuns as a centre of prayer. Since arriving in September last year she has been helping out with the elderly in St Agnes’ parish and with vulnerable women in other parts of London.
Sister Christina grew up in Dublin city centre. She left in 1964 to become a nun but she still goes home every year to visit family and friends.
As a child she was a champion Irish dancer taught by the legendary dance teacher Rory O’Connor. She also learnt cello at the Royal Irish Academy School of Music.
She took her vows in Hertfordshire and is the youngest of four girls in her family who all became Dominican nuns.
But Sister Christina McGarry modestly brushes off questions about her family background, preferring to focus on the future and her new role helping Cafod campaign against climate change.
Sister Christina has seen the effects of climate change first hand. She describes the onset of drought over the years in Kwazulu in South Africa where she taught English and Afrikaans at a Dominican school.
“We used to have rain and thunder every afternoon but as time went on that stopped and the dam became empty for months at a time. The water was cut off for up to 23 hours a day.”
However the nuns had a borehole and a diesel pump and started distributing water to hundreds of families every day.
It prompted them to start a water project which eventually sank hundreds of wells to supply water for up to sixty thousand people.
Average global temperatures have increased by about one degree Celsius since pre-industrial times and the focus of the Paris conference, which ends later this week, is to keep global warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius. A two degree increase is considered the threshold of dangerous and irreversible climate change.
Sister Christina says she’s optimistic a deal can be struck by the 195 countries around the table. Her eyes suddenly light up when she talks about the worldwide marches for climate justice which took place two weeks ago.
“More people seem to be getting interested in stopping climate change.
“The London march we were on with Cafod was fantastic, volunteers providing ordinary voices seeking to be heard.
“And the interfaith service at Westminster showed that churches must make a stand too.
“Laudato Si, the Pope’s encyclical on climate change, has really taken off with all faiths and not just Catholics.”
The Pope’s letter inspired a petition urging cuts in emissions which was signed by 840,000 Catholics worldwide and was delivered to the head of the climate talks, Christiana Figueres, at the start of the summit.
Sister Christina McGarry is no stranger to campaigning against injustice. In South Africa during the apartheid years she learnt about the importance of making a stand; sometimes she was the only white face in the demonstration.
“The effect of the Church on the South African government was fantastic.
“We defied them on educational apartheid where races were educated separately.
“The government threatened to de-register the Catholic schools if we took in black pupils but we just did it anyway.”
That struggle against injustice stayed with her when she left South Africa to run the Dominican guesthouse in Rome. She fed twenty to thirty refugees a day coming from Lampedusa on their way to seek a better life in Northern Europe.
Sister Christina and the Cafod delegation are heading to Paris on Wednesday for the end of the second week of the conference. The negotiators have spent the first week producing a dense fifty page legal document.
During this second and final week ministers will attempt to hammer out an ambitious – and hopefully legally-binding – agreement to prevent climate change from pushing the world’s poorest people even deeper into poverty.
It’s a massive task but Sister Christina just smiles as she says everyone must take some responsibility for their actions: “I’m simply responding to Pope Francis’ call by trying to motivate others to realise the importance of doing even little things like recycling rubbish and walking instead of driving.”
• Brian is a Cafod volunteer who will be attending the Paris Climate Change summit as one of its delegates.
• To find out more about Cafod’s climate change Campaign, go to www.cafod.org.uk