Vatican Light Show Aims to Push Climate Change Agreement

A mixture of fascination, curiosity and consternation is greeting a light show to be projected onto St. Peter’s basilica tomorrow — the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the opening day of the Jubilee of Mercy.

A coalition of non-Catholic humanitarian, philanthropic and conservation groups along with the World Bank are staging the event. It will be the first time ever that images will be projected onto the 17th century basilica's façade and Michelangelo’s cupola.

The organizers say the three hour event, called “Fiat Lux, Illuminating Our Common Home”, will tell the “visual story of the interdependency of humans and life on earth with the planet, in order to educate and inspire change around the climate crisis across generations, cultures, languages, religions and class.”

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, called the event “unique” and said the illumination show “will present images inspired of Mercy, of humanity, of the natural world, and of climate changes.”

He added that the light show, whose images have been shown on various landmarks around the world, is meant to link Pope Francis’ environment encyclical Laudato Si’ with the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) currently underway in Paris until Friday.

"It is our hope that this beautiful and contemporary work of public art will inspire citizens of the world to join together in a moment of compassion and to activate a global movement to protect humankind, our common home and precious endangered species," said Carole Tomko, vice president of Vulcan, Inc., one of the groups sponsoring the event and which promotes initiatives to “change and improve the way people live, learn, do business and experience the world.”

Also sponsoring the event is the Li Ka-shing humanitarian foundation which supports educational and medical research projects. Its founder, Li Ka-shing, said while science and technology can broaden human perspective, “it is only through love that humanity can prevail,” and that it is “such a privilege” to participate in this project “at the very nexus of the philosophy of brotherly love.”

Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, said the organization was “honored to be working with the Vatican to raise awareness of an issue so critical to our shared goal of ending extreme poverty.”

“The poorest people in the world are disproportionately affected by the effects of a warming climate and are most vulnerable to natural disasters and extreme weather,” said Kim. “This impressive initiative will draw global attention to the urgency of tackling climate change for the sake of people and our planet."

Lucia Grenna, program manager of the World Bank Group's Connect4Climate global partnership program, said the light show would “tell a powerful visual story of the interdependency of all life on earth with our environment and we hope inspire the teams in Paris to push for the most ambitious deal possible."

But the event has been criticized for its lack of Catholic focus, for projecting images on one of the most sacred facades in the Christian world on one of the most holy days in the Church’s calendar, and for being supported by the World Bank that actively promotes and funds policies diametrically opposed to Church teaching (it has long-promoted and funded abortion and contraception programs). There's also unease over the emphasis on climate change and that the Church is entering into that scientific debate which is considered to be beyond her competence.

One commentator asked whether anyone would have allowed such a spectacular to be shown on the Temple of Jerusalem. Another observed that whereas Tuesday evening should be dedicated to Mary, Mother of God, instead it seems to be being devoted to Mother Earth, largely a pagan concept. 

The Vatican’s rationale behind the show may well be a worthy one: not only to draw attention to safeguarding creation, but also to engage with these organizations in the hope that they might be converted to Christ and receive the Gospel. But officials at the Pontifical Council declined to answer whether that might be the case, or respond to these other concerns.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi also could not confirm if that were the goal. He responded to the Register Dec. 7 by saying that Archbishop Fisichella addressed this issue at last week’s Vatican press conference, adding that it is to be seen in a “positive sense, also in relation to the COP21” UN climate change conference, and that all the necessary information has been given to reporters.