For many people, 2020 will be a year to forget. The world hasn’t seen so much global heartache and destruction in years.

But during these arduous times, Catholics still had so much to celebrate. This movement celebrated its fifth anniversary in January, and in May, hundreds of thousands of Catholics united to honor the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si’.

All year, Catholics on six continents found ways to put their faith into action and to respond to Pope Francis’ call in Laudato Si’ to unite as communities. “Social problems must be addressed by community networks.” (LS 219)

In a year dominated by ongoing crises, including the worsening climate emergency, COVID-19 pandemic, mass migrations, and biodiversity loss, Catholics came together over and over again to care for our common home.

As we look back at 2020, Catholics worldwide should draw strength from our unity and let it motivate our efforts for 2021 and beyond. “With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me?” (Psalm 118:6)

These are this movement’s top 10 highlights from 2020, with each highlight representing thousands of events and actions taken.

1. Pope Francis leads the way

In February, Pope Francis warmly welcomed the board of directors and leaders of the Global Catholic Climate Movement (photo below), to mark the movement’s 5th anniversary. GCCM was humbled and supremely grateful to have this private audience, which was also attended by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, a longstanding friend and member of GCCM’s Advisory Council.

Ahead of the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis called on everyone to participate in Laudato Si’ Week, which was held 16-24 May.

He also mentioned the global commemoration during the Regina Coeli of 17 May and 24 May, and Pope Francis shared Laudato Si’s inspiring message on his personal social media accounts.

In September and October, Pope Francis championed the ecumenical Season of Creation in ways that inspired millions of Catholics around the world.

He started the season for the second consecutive year with a powerful papal message that celebrated “faith communities” that are “coming together to create a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world.”

On the final day of the season, Pope Francis thanked Christians around the world who spent time during the season caring for God’s creation. In particular, he highlighted the work of the hundreds of organizations and thousands of communities that make up the Global Catholic Climate Movement.

2. Hundreds of thousands celebrate Laudato Si’ Week

Amid a pandemic that had shut down most of the world, Catholics on six continents overcame unimaginable obstacles to pray and reflect on how we can build a more just and sustainable future.

Online workshops led by global leaders, including the Vatican’s Cardinal Peter Turkson and Paris climate agreement architect Christiana Figueres, anchored the commemoration.

Hundreds of community-led actions throughout the world demonstrated how Catholics truly can overcome any hardship to care for our common home and inspire the rest of the world.

Particularly inspiring was the example set by the Diocese of Bergamo, Italy.At the time, Bergamo was one of the cities most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Yet the diocese invited its members to reflect on Laudato Si’ during the quarantine period through online videos, sending a message of hope to all suffering from the pandemic. Read more about the 2020 Laudato Si’ Week here.

3. Thousands undergo training to lead their communities

Alice Kemunto of Nairobi, Kenya

Michael Downs of California, USA

Dircia Belo of Timor-Leste

They came from six different continents and represented all ages. But the more than 4,000 leaders who became Laudato Si’ Animators in 2020 had one major factor in common: They were ready to bring Laudato Si’ to life in their communities.

Laudato Si’ Animators are champions for Catholic action on the climate crisis and lead their communities to care for our common home.

During the training, they connected with hundreds of like-minded individuals from all over the world and studied the root causes of the climate crisis and the key concepts of Laudato Si’.

To finish the training, the Animators took action with their final projects. Dircia Belo in Timor-Leste shared Laudato Si’s hopeful message and inspired hundreds in her country to join the program. Germán Lucero and Carolina Campillay planted a garden for an all-women’s penitentiary in Argentina.

In Spain, Enélida Hernández worked with her fellow teachers to implement Laudato Si’ throughout her school’s curriculum. Read more stories of Laudato Si’ Animators here.

4. Catholic institutions lead record-breaking year for divestment

This year featured the two biggest joint divestments from fossil fuels as more and more institutions put their faith into action. All told in 2020, 89 institutions from 27 countries made the commitment to divest from fossil fuels.

On the global stage, in June, the Vatican issued its first set of comprehensive environmental guidelines.

For the first time, the Vatican as a whole endorsed the fossil fuel divestment campaign. The Vatican recommended that Catholic institutions shy away from investing in companies that “harm human or social ecology (for example, through abortion or the arms trade), or environmental ecology (for example, through the use of fossil fuels).”

In November, Pope Francis voiced further support for the movement that tells fossil fuel companies to keep fossil fuels in the ground. During the TED Countdown talk, Pope Francis proclaimed that all people and organizations can lead an energy transition by divesting from “those companies that do not meet the parameters of integral ecology,” while investing in companies that value sustainability and social justice.

5. Global Christian family unites for Season of Creation

Amid crises that have shaken our world, the global Christian family was awakened to the urgent need to heal our relationships with creation and with each other during the ecumenical Season of Creation.

From 1 September through 4 October, Christians came together for a time of restoration and hope, a jubilee for our Earth, and discovered radically new ways of living with creation by uniting to pray and take action for our common home.

Hundreds of thousands of Christians and institutions participated in more than 1,300 events, including outdoor and online prayer services, reforestation projects, and the planting of outdoor gardens.

Midway through the season, Pope Francis urged all people to practice contemplation to help them better care for our common home. Read more about the 2020 Season of Creation here.

GCCM Program Manager for Africa Br. Benedict Ayodi helps lead a reforestation effort in Kenya.

6. Catholics tell the world they ‘Stand With Pope Francis’, advocate for ‘just transition’

As governments worldwide considered economic recovery packages, Pope Francis issued a prayer intention that enlivened thousands of Catholics and motivated them to “stand with Pope Francis.”

His Holiness prayed that the world embrace the “sharing,” not “plundering,” of its resources, and that all people take action to protect God’s gifts “today, not tomorrow, today.”

Upon hearing his prayer intention, thousands of Catholics signed a petition stating that they agree: COVID-19 pandemic economic recovery packages must embrace sharing, not plundering, of the world’s resources. Read more about how to “Stand With Pope Francis” here.

Calls from Catholics for a “just transition” away from fossil fuels also gained more energy in 2020. The topic was a key message of the Season of Creation.

Thousands of Catholics participated in five webinars that featured advice and commentary from leading regional experts.

The discussions highlighted the need for the world to quickly transition away from fossil fuels and to embrace a clean energy economy that helps the world avoid the worst effects of the biodiversity crisis and climate emergency.

Such a transition should be especially “attentive to the impact on the poor, on local populations, as well as on those who work in the energy production sectors,” Pope Francis said in October.

7. Young people show the way

“Young people demand change,” Pope Francis wrote in 2015 (Laudato Si’ 13). But in 2020, young people did far more than demand change; they led the way.

Nineteen young people from eight countries started the Season of Creation with a lively ecumenical prayer service, setting an example for how the global Christian family can unite during the season. Later in the ecumenical celebration, their peers led a webinar that featured success stories and highlighted the need for climate action.

Young people and Laudato Si’ Generation members also adapted to the pandemic and made their voices heard through online climate strikes throughout the year, including on 25 September, the Global Day of Climate Action.

Their efforts had the support of high-level Catholic Church leaders, including Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, who praised the “generation which takes responsibility for their future.”

8. Growing number of Laudato Si’ Circles spur ecological conversions

Quoting Pope Benedict, Pope Francis wrote, “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.

“For this reason,” Pope Francis continued, “the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion.” (LS 217)

Laudato Si’ Circles address the need for all of us to undergo an ecological conversion. Circles are small groups that meet regularly to deepen their relationship with God as Creator and all of creation.

In 2020, about 300 new Circles were created, bringing the total to more than 500 Circles worldwide that are living the Laudato Si’ message on the ground.

That growth thanks to the Holy Spirit represents thousands of people undergoing an ecological conversion, “whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.” (LS 217) Click here to learn more about Laudato Si’ Circles.

9. Hearing creation’s song, cry, and invitation

Catholics and the rest of the world spent much of this year in some form of isolation, staying at home or social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19.

But the Holy Spirit still brought Catholics together throughout the year. GCCM hosted five momentous Global Laudato Si’ Prayer Services that united this movement at a time when we were all clamoring for connection.

From July through December, this movement came together to listen to creation’s song, cry, and invitation and to connect through small group discussions.

One continent was featured each month, and the rotating of hosts gave participants a chance to learn more about that part of the world. Register for the 2021 prayer services here.

Limited because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Catholics still found creative ways to connect, including during the above Zoom call of Laudato Si’ Animators.

Seven online Laudato Si’ Retreats were also held this year, letting thousands of Catholics grow in their faith and more deeply connect with creation and our Creator.

10. The continued consolidation and growth of GCCM

Thanks to the Holy Spirit working throughout this movement, the GCCM Board of Directors, Steering Committee, and Secretariat pushed GCCM forward in 2020.

Their work recently has focused on making sure GCCM remains strongly aligned with its values, including being grounded in the Catholic faith and driven by hope, and helping the entire GCCM network better understand the movement’s story, identity, and governance structures (more details to be announced early in 2021).

In February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of the world, the GCCM Board of Directors was privileged enough to have meetings with high-level Vatican leaders, further strengthening the organization’s blessed and vital partnership with the Vatican.

The Board also underwent a significant transition, with the presidency transitioning from Amy Woolam Echeverria to Lorna Gold (previously the Vice-Chair, currently Acting Chair).

We are all enormously grateful for Amy’s tremendous leadership during the past six years of GCCM birthing, best illustrated in this wonderful blog post about the audience with Pope Francis, and we are incredibly excited about the next steps of the journey with Lorna.

The GCCM Secretariat also kept growing in 2020! We welcomed new team members in Kenya, the U.S., Ireland, and Ecuador.

Working together with God and the bishops, pastors, and laypeople who are the face of this movement, GCCM challenged the world to act faster and to do more for the least among us as the climate crisis worsens around the globe.Next year, 2021, will be one of great opportunity and potential, and we look forward to continuing to run with you on this fast-paced and Spirit-filled journey. Read more about 2021 plans here.