Local Youth & young adult

Sabetha parishioner talks with Pope Francis about migration, climate change

Henry Glynn (top right), a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Sabetha, takes part in a Zoom meeting with Pope Francis called Building Bridges North-South. The meeting, with university students from North, Central and South America, discussed migration and climate change. COURTESY PHOTO

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

SABETHA — Henry Glynn, a member of Sacred Heart Parish here, and a junior at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, is passionate about his Catholic faith.

“I love the Catholic Church, and I’m Catholic before I am anything else,” he said. “It is the first adjective I use to describe myself.” 

So when Glynn got an email from Creighton professors with a subject line reading “Meeting with Pope Francis?” he was all in.

The invitation was to participate in Building Bridges North-South, a synodal event on migration between Pope Francis and university students from North, Central and South America, hosted by Loyola University in Chicago.

A passion for creation

Glynn’s college experience had already broadened his understanding of Catholic social teaching, particularly after a theology class introduced him to the pope’s encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.”

“I’ve always been an outdoorsy kid,” he said. “I’m from a small town, a farming community and I’m an Eagle Scout.

“So, when we read ‘Laudato Si’’ I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I love my Catholic faith and I also love the outdoors.’ I had no idea there was this teaching that says it goes together, and it’s a faith issue.”

With that in mind, Glynn became active in a climate divestment movement led by students on the Creighton campus.

The movement culminated in the university divesting from all fossil fuels and gave Glynn his first taste of nonviolent direct action in response to climate change.

“I saw the power that it could have and how important an issue it is,” he said.

Henry Glynn spent two months last summer in Tanzania living with a subsistence farming family that ran a small village school. He is pictured above with some of the schoolchildren. “I spent June and July living with a Tanzanian family and working at their preschool and on their organic farm,” said Glynn. “I traveled there for 50 days through a global volunteer program called WorkAway.” PHOTO COURTESY OF HENRY GLYNN

Last summer, Glynn’s faith deepened when he spent two months in Tanzania living with a subsistence farming family that ran a small village school.

“I spent 50 days with very little phone service and lots of silence,” he said. “It reinforced the fact that I am not in control of my life. I’m living according to the call of the Holy Spirit.

“That experience jolted me back to the reality that listening is so much more important than talking.”

It also made him aware of how greatly the poorest among us are impacted by climate change.

“I recognized how much we humans rely on the earth when living in an environment like that,” he said. “This nature around us is God, there’s no doubt.

“That’s what Scripture says, that’s what the Church Fathers say; and care for creation is paramount to our life.

“It’s a pro-life issue.”

Taking action

This semester, Glynn accepted an internship at the nation’s leading Catholic climate nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C.

 “I really loved my Catholic social teaching class,” he said. “And I thought if I could use both my political science and my theology degree that would be cool.

“So, I ended up at Catholic Climate Covenant.”

Emily Burke, a graduate of Creighton whom Glynn knew through his involvement in the climate divestment movement, is the social media manager at the organization.

A doctoral student at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Burke was also recommended by Creighton professors to participate in Building Bridges North-South.

“I’ve gotten to know [Henry] a lot better as we shared the experience of encountering Pope Francis together,” said Burke. “We’ve had a lot of late nights and long conversations about the importance of young Catholics, Catholic climate action and the strategy of nonviolent direct action.”

Henry Glynn takes part in a congressional meeting between faith leaders and members of the House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. The meeting took place March 17. Glynn was able to attend this meeting as a representative for Catholic Climate Covenant, which took part in the meeting as a member organization of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. Covenant founder Dan Misleh invited Glynn to attend the meeting with him. PHOTO COURTESY OF HENRY GLYNN

Glynn and Burke were in a group of about 20 young adults representing the central U.S. and Canada.

They participated in three synodal meetings over the course of three weeks to discern what their group wanted to bring to the pope.

“We were told early on,” said Glynn, “[that] the pope knows the problems that are going on with migration.

“He kind of wants to hear college students’ ideas for solutions.”

Glynn and Burke immediately went to the root of the problem for their solution, and they found it in advocacy for climate change action.

“You can lay out a pretty clear path from the horrors of migration back to how we’re destroying the earth, which places added burdens on poor people and compromises all of our common good,” said Glynn.

Though many good ideas were discussed within their group, there was overwhelming support for presenting the pope with climate change.

The group elected Glynn and Burke to serve as its representatives in the Feb. 24 virtual forum with Pope Francis.

Encounter with Pope Francis

“We worked really hard together on both of our remarks,” said Burke. “Henry was tasked with setting up the problem of climate change inaction in the Catholic Church and connecting the dots between climate change and migration/refugee issues.

“I was tasked with presenting our proposed solution to this problem — namely, the establishment of training and education centers for nonviolent direct action.”

Glynn’s parents, David and Kerstin Glynn, and his sister Ellen have been inspired by his passion for Catholic action to combat the effects of climate change.

His mother, a doctor in a busy office, was able to take a moment to watch her son dialogue with the pope.

 “I was able to put my headphones in and play it on my phone,” she said. “I was not nervous for him; I was excited for him.

“My favorite moment was as Henry began to speak. Pope Francis put his pen down and very attentively looked and listened.”

Henry noticed that moment, too.

“When I started talking,” he said, “I saw him out of the corner of my eye.”

Burke wasn’t surprised at the pope’s attentiveness.

“[Henry’s] delivery was confident,” she said. “He communicated very clearly the urgency of the issue and his personal connection to it.

“I think he did a fantastic job, and by his reaction, Pope Francis seemed to agree.”

There is much work ahead, but Glynn has hope for the future.

“I see among my generation this issue [of climate change] is no longer a question of whether you believe it’s happening,” he said. “It’s what are we going to do about it? And I’ve really found hope in my prayer.

“The church says we have this teaching, it’s a faith issue. We’re going to care for the earth.”

“We can organize,” Glynn concluded. “And we can make this happen on a big-time level, out of love for each other.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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1 Comment

  • Jill,
    Thank you for the artical written about Henry Glynn. He gives hope to his generation and to the world. His faith is obviously very important to him and that can fullfil the Gospel messages, of spread our faith and love and sometimes use words.
    “Go well”