“God always forgives. We humans sometimes forgive. The earth never forgives. There can be no future if we destroy the very environment that sustains us” (Pope Francis, Our Mother Earth, p36).


By Hyein Anna Noh

Anna Hyein

Anna is a Columban lay missionary from Korea who, together with three other Korean lay missionaries, was assigned to the Philippines in April 2011.  In 2019, she returned to Korea to be the Coordinator of the Columban Lay Missionaries in the country.

“God always forgives. We humans sometimes forgive. The earth never forgives. There can be no future if we destroy the very environment that sustains us” (Pope Francis, Our Mother Earth, p36).

     In a poor neighborhood in  Quezon City, Philippines, I found a small room where I could live among the locals. At the time, my idea of being a missionary involve  living among the “poorest and most marginalized.

     In the late afternoons, just before sunset, people  bring bags of garbage they had collected to the entrance of the neighborhood. By evening, the garbage bags would be piled like a mountain. The trash they collected will be  sent to a huge garbage dump in Payatas, about a 30-minute ride by Jeepney (local public transportation) from our neighborhood. One day, I went inside that village to Payatas to meet another missionary who lived right across from the dump. I was met with the image of adults and children  scouring through heaps of garbage, then washing and drying the vinyl and plastic.

    These local people are pickers, who forage for recyclables, and this is their main source of livelihood. When my colleague told me they view this trash as a gift from God to sustain their life, I felt a deep connection to them and hope to be able to better their lives.

    When I was assigned to Korea in 2019, I wondered what I could do as an individual and a lay missionary in the Korean church. In 2020, the world was devastated by Covid-19 and the climate crisis showed absolutely no sign of improving. So, I knew I couldn’t just shrug and return to my former way of living, as if nothing were was happening. I had to do something. They say, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Anna Hyein 2

   When I found out about Global Catholic Climate Movement’s weekly climate protests on Fridays in Gwangwhamun district of Seoul, I decided to participate. At first, I wasn’t sure what to write on my protest sign, and, although picketing isn’t a crime, I felt a bit embarrassed to stand so publicly in front of people with it. I was afraid someone would recognize me, but with a mask covering half of my face, I had enough courage to safely finish my first protest. When I go picketing, I think of the pickers who worked for their living at the entrance of my old neighborhood in Quezon City and the garbage dump in Payatas. To me, they are the ones protecting the earth at amidst the climate crisis. It is ironic that the poor, who benefit the least from our planet’s resources and who would be most vulnerable to the climate crisis, are the ones struggling for the good of the earth. This is a universal truth.

    All around the world, droughts, floods, typhoons, heat waves, and severe cold are further intensifying due to climate change. Sooner or later, this will negatively impact food production, leading to wars over food security. This would lead to a crisis not only for humankind, but for all of creation.

"Everything is connected” (Laudato Si, 91)  My temporary comfort today could cause another person on the other side of the world to become a climate refugee, or send our delicate biodiversity into crisis. I may not have a deep and extensive knowledge on this matter like climate scientists, but my heart aches just the same as I hear the “cries of the earth, cries of the poor” (Laudato Si, 49) day and night. I’m still at a loss when I hear of the seeming impossibility of achieving climate-neutrality by 2050 and the  UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Crisis’ (IPCC) report that we’ll reach an average global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius even faster than predicted.

   However, small of a gesture it is, joining climate protests at Gwanghwamun changed my life. Now, I grow plants, ride a bike, use less plastic, and sort my waste more carefully. For the past several months, I cut high-carbon meats out of my diet and recently I became a vegetarian. As the action team leader for GCCM KOREA2, I’m inviting more people to get involved in the climate movement, not only through personal practice, but also by standing in solidarity and with steadfast support for those uniting to overcome this crisis. If you are wondering what you can do for our planet right now, let me encourage you to start taking action wherever you are.

    As I mentioned at the start, I thought missionary life meant living in poverty among the poor, witnessing God in daily life. However, it is also important for missionaries to pay attention to the demands and needs of our age and generation. I confess that I have overlooked this for a long time. In my ignorance, God reminded me that not only humans, but also everything that lives on earth, our common home, exists in God’s created order. This brought me to my ecological conversion. So, whenever I am exhausted and the road ahead seems difficult, I would like to proceed silently in gratitude to God who waited for me over the last years. “The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures” (Laudato Si, 240).

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