On September 18 and 19 this year I was fortunate enough to be part of a small group of senior mining industry executives and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) representatives who travelled to the Vatican to meet with senior members of the Catholic Church in what was known as a Day of Reflection.
This followed a similar meeting in September 2013 that I also attended and is in keeping with Pope Francis’s deliberate and, I would argue, constructive efforts to engage with leaders of industry and civil society on the important issues of our time.
The gathering was convened by the Pontifical Council on Peace and Justice and led by his eminence Cardinal Peter Turkson. The meetings provided an opportunity for a wide ranging conversation about the role of mining globally as being fundamental to many sectors of human life and society but also recognition that it is an industry with many challenges given the pressing environmental, social and economic issues of our time.
There was honest and direct input presented from communities that had been impacted negatively by mining as well as a discussion of where mineral development had gone well and what the key factors were in contributing to these more positive outcomes. Environmental issues, poverty, corruption, human rights and prior and informed consent were all on the table for consideration.
Given that in the room there were senior leaders of some of the largest mining companies in the world including Anglo American, Rio Tinto, De Beers and Newmont, among others, as well as church and NGO’s leaders who engage significantly on these issues globally, the opportunity for meaningful dialogue was very much there.
I should note that I am not a Catholic and although I consider myself a Christian, the truth is I, like so many, attend church only a few times a year and am not a fan of many of the rigid structures of organized religion. So, in agreeing to attend a meeting such as this with the most senior leaders of an organization that counts 1.2 billion people as its members and is some 2,000 years old, I really did not know what to expect.
And when we convened the discussion in the building and rooms of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences where of which in its ancient ancestry Galileo was a member and of which today eminent scientists are members, it was certainly intriguing to consider what might be possible in this.
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