24th Sunday B
12th September 2021
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
“So too I set my face like flint
I know I shall not be shamed”
On the 10th November 1995 Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian environmental activist was executed by hanging along with eight others by the military dictatorship. He was fifty-two and the father of five young children. They were found guilty on trumped up charges of the murder of four tribal chiefs.
The real reason they wanted him dead was his activism on behalf of the Ogoni people whose lands were being polluted by the oil exploitation of the Royal Dutch Oil Company. Ken Saro-Wiwa was a very gifted man – a poet, journalist, film producer and novelist. His execution along with his eight co-accused led to a great international outcry which led to Nigeria suffering sanctions for a number of years. It is now history and one wonders did he and they die in vain?
Ken Saro-Wiwa stands in a long line of people who have defied authority in the cause of truth and justice. What is distinctive about him, is his defiance in the face of the destruction of environment and land of the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta. A quarter of a century later these issues of the environment and its protection are important not just for places like the Niger Delta and the Amazon but indeed for all of humanity.
Significant weather extremes during this summer have brought it centre stage. The meeting called COP26, which is due to take place in Glasgow in November, will keep these issues before our minds. Leaders from all the nations across the globe will be there, as will Pope Francis. Together they will seek to set new targets to decarbonize our atmosphere so that the world’s natural rhythms can flourish and provide for the needs of all.
These targets that will be set will come with a price – financially and personally. A lot of the financial cost will be set by governments and we may not have much choice. However, the personal cost will be our own. It is for us an individual and maybe a family choice to make sacrifices, not just to meet our goals which is always a good and noble thing to do but for others especially those whose lives are being shattered by climate change caused by our choices and life-styles. In saying this, I have no desire to make people feel guilty rather to develop an awareness of the global reality and accept a measure of personal responsibility for change.
That is precisely the points of the 2nd Reading from St. James – fine words without action, without responsibility is simply empty rhetoric. Jesus, in the Gospel is inviting his hearers to understand the “cross”, sacrifice, as an instrument of life and hope for ourselves yes, but for others too – and in that way becomes lifegiving for all.
“Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it
but anyone who loses his life for my safe and
for the sake of the Gospel will save it”
Ken Saro-Wiwa paid the ultimate price for his people and the land / welfare. It was not in vain. His name, his cause, his care for the earth, a sign of God’s providence, continue to live in the hearts and minds of a new generation. When we view the many conflicts and crises across the world, we can become disheartened if we fail to recognise the emergence of a new awareness and responsibility at a global level. Pope Francis seeks to offer the life of the Gospel as a light and guide for humanity as we dialogue to find a way forward. “Fratelli Tutti” Brothers and sisters all.