DC Animal Activist, 14, Launches Partnership with The Vatican on Climate Change
Pope Francis, by writing Laudato si’ and passionately advocating for its message, has distinguished himself as one of the most powerful voices on the environment in addition to guiding 1.2 billion Catholics and his authority as a world religious leader to so many more beyond that.
Astrid Tuuli Grace Determan, a life-long animal activist from Washington DC and founder of EPIC-Animals, is overwhelmed by the Pope’s message and feels deeply that an adaptation of Laudato Si’ created collectively by and for young people from all over the world could become an extremely powerful product in her mission to save endangered animals and our planet.
It was a huge day for Astrid’s enterprise as the “Laudato Si Kids" initiative was publicly announced with the Vatican at the inauguration of the Living Chapel in Milan Italy. And, through Astrid’s partnership with the World Bank, the message was further shared with young environmental leaders from 200 countries gathering to set the agenda for COP.
“We can and must create a powerful movement that will begin to change the way we look at economics, nature, and our relationship to the world. To achieve that, we need a new story...or, perhaps, to remember an old story...where nature is considered precious, animals are regarded as family, and where humankind gives back to the earth. That’s why a kids version is so important and why we want our initiative to engage young people at the front lines of climate change the world over” Explains Astrid Determan.
Astrid’s Living Chapel Virtual Speech in Milan Italy - Sept 28th
Astrid’s Speech to PreCOP 400 youth climate delegates - Sept 28
Background on Astrid's Partnership with the Vatican & World Bank
In 2019, Astrid, then an 11-year-old student and long-time animal activist traveled uninvited and knocked on the gates of the Vatican morning after morning until Cardinal Turkson heard of this and opened up. He wholeheartedly supported her vision of adapting the beliefs and vision of the Pope’s Encyclical to a younger audience by and for kids the world over. Within weeks, Astrid was invited back to give a speech and announce the partnership at an interdenominational gathering of religious leaders discussing the Sustainable Development Goals in the Vatican.
Astrid’s 2019 Vatican Speech at time marker 3:32 ( https://vimeo.com/460366763 )
Building on that vision, Astrid approached Connect4Climate with the hopes to engage their network of many million activists into her initiative. They too welcomed the potential of the idea and Astrid has since been developing the strategy and planning the next steps with their enthusiastic support for the last six months.
This first step of this new partnership took form at the inauguration of the Living Chapel, a symbol of interfaith dialog and commitment to combat climate change in Milan Italy. The event was happening at the same time that Milan hosts the Pre-COP and the Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition Summit. ( Press release for The Living Chapel is also attached ) Consequently, it provided an excellent opportunity to publicly launch Laudato Si’ Kids.
With 400 youth delegates – two from nearly every country that signed the Paris Climate Agreement – attending the Youth Summit, it was an ideal time to bring such a project to their attention so that when they go back home, those who are interested can enlist their brothers, sisters, and friends, indeed the whole local community, to explore the Laudato Si’ and determine how it appertains to their particular experience.
Very soon, vivid contributions towards the Kids Laudato Si’ will begin to flow from every corner of the world and every denomination as the kids start to share their local stories in the light of global, indeed universal, beliefs of the Encyclical.
Background on Laudato si’
Five years ago Pope Francis wrote an encyclical to people of all faiths called Laudato si’: On the Care of Our Common Home. In it, Pope Francis shows how greed, materialism, selfishness, and fear are destroying our earth, Creation, and he declares that it is humanity’s moral obligation to protect our planet and the most threatened groups of people.
The Pope speaks to people’s faith and spirituality and therefore directly to their hearts. So, Laudato si’ is a sacred call to action and a roadmap to healing our planet by healing our human hearts. It’s about Climate Change but also much more, it is an integrated approach designed for the people most impacted by this devastation, often the poor and indigenous peoples who are most intimately connected with mother earth.
Introduction to Astrid and EPIC-Animals
My name is Astrid Tuuli Grace Determan. I just turned 14 years old but have been hard at work saving endangered animals and our environment since I was five with my initiative EPIC-Animals. EPIC stands for Every Person Initiate Change, it’s a call to action! The main idea of EPIC is to empower kids at the epicenter of climate change (often indigenous), link them with kids in capitals where laws are made - like DC – and together, build a huge voice for change and harmony with nature.
Here is a summary booklet of my journey.
Here is a little video summary of my experiences.
Here was my first-ever testimony before the MD State Legislature at age 6.
Because I started this so young, my strategy has been to refine my own civic action skills, give inspiring speeches to powerful groups of adults, and link with larger established climate non-profits to persuade them to seriously train young kids and to incorporate my mission for the animals. In this process, I have been blessed with unbelievable NGO partners including the chance to align my mission with the most powerful global voice for the environment - Pope Francis.
Currently, I am adapting for children of ALL faiths our Pope’s Encyclical about climate change with the guidance of Cardinal Turkson and others. This is a really big deal because the Encyclical itself is a big deal. It is the most important document the Catholic Church has ever released on the environment and if families with deep faith can understand their responsibility to Mother Earth they can be inspired to internalize this message and will take major action.
Text from Astrid's Two Speeches this week
Astrid’s Living Chapel Speech in Milan Italy - Sept 28th
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
I bring you my warmest greetings from Washington DC as we celebrate this momentous occasion and we experience together this beautiful Living Chapel inspired by Laudato si.
Let me start by quoting generously from a talk by my beloved friend and partner in our project to adapt Laudato si for children. Cardinal Turkson as he captures one of the key sentiments of Pope Francis in Laudato sì tells us "There is Hope in change" For, in Laudato sì, the Pope firstly presents the dramatic social and ecological situation of our common home, saying: “… we need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair”
But, at this disrepair, he neither yields to the temptation of fruitless pessimism, nor to a naïve optimism. Rather, he relies on the capacity of human beings to change, both individually and communally.
He says: “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change”.
Pope Francis certainly believes that “hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always redirect our steps, that we can always do something – like the initiative of this extraordinary Living Chapel - to solve our problems” The capacity to change (conversion) relies on God’s love.
In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis points to the bonds of our cosmic, biological, and human fellowship, enwrapped in God’s infinite love. “Everything is related, and we human beings are related to each other as brothers and sisters, on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river, and mother earth.” The truth of interrelatedness and interdependence among creatures requires that we treat every creature with respect. “Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.”
I love this call for optimism and for respect. I believe in these words so deeply. Have you ever considered that the origins of this terrible pandemic we are living through can be traced back to just one single act of cruelty to a small defenseless creature in the wet markets of Wuhan China? Just one action has led to all of this.
And, if that is true, why on earth is the inverse not also true. I do believe, and I hope you agree, that one act of generosity and love to a tiny creature (or to our fellow man) has an equal potential to bring about a wave of healing across our planet.
The Pope reminds us that integral ecology essentially entails more than a discussion of what is outside us but also the ‘human’ and ‘social’ dimensions.
I care so deeply for Creation. When I was very young I felt as though the animals and I understood one another. I could hear their cry and decided to speak up for their interests before politicians. My love for all these animals grew into a love for our common home and as I matured, a recognition of the reckless and unnatural actions our species is taking.
Once I traveled 120 miles above the Arctic Circle to join the Gwich'in Nation's spiritual gathering and was given a glimpse into how profound and interconnected humans can be with nature. What my eyes saw my heart will never forget and this changed the course of my life.
When I returned home I read Laudato si the first time and it was as if someone turned the light on and made sense of all the experiences I had had in my life of advocacy. I could perceive clearly for the first time the elements of my challenge, our collective challenge. I started to understand that what we really need is a change in consciousness.
I knew then that we could and must begin to change the way we look at economics, nature, and our relationship to the world. And, to achieve that, we need a new story...or, as Pope Francis reminds us -- perhaps, we need to remember an old story (like that of my Gwich’in friends)...where nature is considered precious, wildlife is regarded as part of our family, and where humankind gives back to the earth. Laudato Si is key to that!
My little brother Sebastian and I raced to Rome with the intention to adapt Laudato si for Children and to seed this change in consciousness.
By the grace of God, I met Cardinal Turkson and he shared my same vision. He invited me back to Rome a few months after and we formally launched this partnership before a conference of world religious leaders gathered to discuss SDGs at the Vatican. And, today, with the continued support of the Vatican and now UNEP, and the Connect4Climate, we are poised to do something really amazing.
I am reaching out today to all young people the world over to work together with us in this first step. Please, let us hear of all your life experiences in the context of the Laudato Si’ and climate change. Laudato si reminds us of the dire need to reconnect with Creation and hear her cry. We all see that through the lens of our unique cultures and life experiences and we should share it with one another. Together with these amazing partners, we will start by producing a compelling multimedia piece that can attract and mobilize a whole new movement to come together to save the planet.
I share the belief and sentiment of Laudato Si. "There is Hope in change". For myself, I see a much better world ahead. I see a future where wild animals like elephants, whales, and great apes abound, where I can walk in healthy forests and swim in plastic-free oceans, where wealth is shared so every child can know happiness, where the climate crisis is under control.
Please come join us! We must think beyond what is, and Imagine what will be!
Astrid’s Second Speech to PreCOP 400 youth delegates - Sept 28
First of all, congratulations to all 400 of you young delegates on being chosen from 200 countries to attend the Pre-COP meetings. You are clearly not only passionate but also effective at bringing about positive change for the Earth. I am years behind you but admire you so much. You are all incredible role models to me and to all youth.
It’s such an honor to address you today, especially since it gives me a chance—virtually and in my imagination—to visit a wonderful garden, a living chapel—one of the countless ways in which nature becomes poetry.
My name is Astrid. I am only fourteen years old now but have been very active giving speeches and lobbying to save endangered animals since I was five. I was asked to present to you an opportunity to project your voice even further than you already have and to also lay the foundation for other young people you admire to possibly join you in working to amplify climate action.
You may not know that five years ago Pope Francis wrote a letter to people of all faiths called Laudato si’. In it, he shows how greed, materialism, selfishness, and fear are destroying our earth, and he declares that it is humanity’s moral obligation to protect our planet and the most threatened groups of people. I am sure this message will resonate with you especially.
And, Pope Francis, by writing Laudato si’ and passionately advocating for its message, has distinguished himself as one of the most powerful voices on the Environment in addition to guiding 1.2 billion Catholics. The Vatican asked me a few years ago to adapt the Pope’s letter for a younger audience and this unbelievable opportunity has led me to you. I want this adaptation of Laudato si to be created for, by, and with kids the world over and of all faiths.
In partnership with the Vatican, Connect4Climate, and the UN, EPIC-Animals launching a program that will allow you to link your environmental passion with that of Pope Francis and to magnify your impact. Our idea is for you to take the framework of a small speech and personalize it with examples from your faith and culture. You could then train your younger brother and sister or another budding young advocate you admire to stand tall and present it with passion.
I would guess this challenge will take you about one day of writing and filming but it should also be really fun. And, the possible rewards to your mission, not to mention the truly life-changing opportunity for another younger child you admire, is very significant.
Maybe you feel as I do that we young kids have a much greater capacity to bring about change than anyone expects of us or trains us for. If it was not for my parents’ faith in me and knowledge of civic activism I would never have achieved what I have. Do you feel the responsibility to give back too?
Consuelo, the amazing director of the Living Chapel project mentioned an Italian expression earlier today… “chiudere il cerchio”—to "close the circle" . She said it with regard to this lovely garden and how the circle is the symbol of perfection and harmony of all things. I immediately thought of another related expression by Martin Luther King Jr. that I love too, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. I think of it often when I see the long struggle of my Gwich'in friends to save their Arctic home, or the career of my mentors like Inge Relph, who draws on a life of experience to guide me in Laudato Si’. I see it too in the younger kids you and I will mentor. Some goals are so big they start before us and may end after us. All of our efforts are segments of the long arc, and we press and pull at it with a vision, a deep belief, that one day we will collectively close the circle and find harmony.
Through this project, we will also uncover the very youngest potential environmental change agents among us and give them the support, the tools, and platform to be heard they might otherwise never have had.
The many young voices who participate will become connected with each other through our team and be given training and opportunities to speak out in the future. We hope this will be an opportunity to really mobilize communities of faith to engage in solving the climate crisis and saving endangered species.
I hope so much you will participate. Look me up on LinkedIn or visit EPIC-Animals.com Really, my life, like yours, is for our planet and the beautiful creatures on it. It will be wonderful to get to know you so we can support one another’s efforts as we grow.
Arctic Angel Astrid Tuuli Grace Determan
Founder EPIC-Animals - Join me on LinkedIn
Astrid can be contacted via Jo@GlobalChoices.org