On World Refugee Day, we remember and honor the millions of individuals displaced by conflicts, persecution, and now, the adverse effects of climate change. Among these brave souls is Arouna Kande, a Senegalese climate migrant, whose journey in The Letter not only highlights the plight of environmental refugees but also sheds light on the interconnectedness of environmental degradation, social justice, and the urgent need for collective action.
Today, we commemorate Arouna’s inspiring story and his meeting with Pope Francis during the making of the environmental documentary, “The Letter.”
The Perils of Climate Migration
Ecological disruptions disproportionately impact vulnerable communities, leading to forced migration in search of safer and more sustainable living conditions. Arouna Kande, like many others, found his friends caught in the unforgiving grip of climate migration.
Born and raised in Senegal, Arouna witnessed firsthand the gradual deterioration of his homeland due to rising temperatures, desertification, and rising sea level patterns. As “the sea took our homes,” Arouna’s dream of going to university faced an uncertain future.
Left with few choices, Arouna’s loved ones embarked on perilous journeys, leaving behind everything they held dear. Crossing treacherous seas, enduring harsh weather conditions, and braving human trafficking risks, many eventually reach Europe, where they sought refuge and the opportunity to rebuild their lives.
“The Letter” and the Encounter with Pope Francis
Recognizing the significance of his experiences, Arouna was invited to meet Pope Francis, a leading advocate for environmental justice and the rights of migrants. Their meeting was a profoundly moving encounter, where Pope Francis embraced Arouna, listened to his story, and expressed his deep concern for the plight of climate migrants.
Arouna shares how his story has changed since production of “The Letter” in the May 27, 2023 event “Responding to The Letter: Where do we go from here?”
Since Arouna’s journey and his meeting with Pope Francis, he has enrolled in university to study child services. Today, he also speaks with faith leaders in Senegal to remind everyone that speaking up about climate change “wasn’t about Muslims, wasn’t about Catholics, wasn’t about animists; it was about the entire world.”
Our Role as the Church
As Catholics, it is incumbent upon us to engage in collective efforts to mitigate climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and advocate for policies that prioritize the well-being of both people and the planet.
The Pope’s encyclical letter, Laudato Si’, reminds us of the integral relationship between ecology and human dignity, urging us to protect vulnerable populations affected by climate change. Together, we can build a future where no one is forced to flee their home due to environmental devastation.
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