VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Climate change activists faced trial at the Vatican on Wednesday (May 24) on vandalism charges for gluing themselves to the statue of “Laocoön and His Sons” in the Vatican Museums last summer.
The trial of Ester Goffi, a 25-year-old art history student, and Guido Viero, a 61-year-old health worker, took place on the eighth anniversary of “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis’ encyclical promoting the care of creation and the environment.
The activists belong to a group called Ultima Generazione, which translates to “Last Generation” in English and brings together many young people throughout Italy to raise awareness about climate change through public gestures and social media.
Last Generation activists specifically target artistic sites such as the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
“Today is a special day because it’s the anniversary of the publication of the encyclical ‘Laudato Si’,’ the wake-up call issued by the Holy Father regarding the condition of the environment and the planet,” Tommaso Juhasz, 30, a member of the Last Generation, told Religion News Service in an interview. “Let’s hope this coincidence will be beneficial for whatever will take place in that tribunal.”
Juhasz joined other climate activists on Wednesday for a protest near St. Peter’s Square in support of Goffi and Viero. The two were offered a defense lawyer who is an expert in canon law by the Vatican since they claimed they could not afford their own. They risk paying over 30,000 euros in fines.
Juhasz told RNS that he “absolutely” views Pope Francis as an ally in this battle against climate change.
“He is more radical than we are,” he said. “If one reads ‘Laudato Si” and what it says and what it demands, it’s much more radical than we are.”
A priest who supports Last Generation gifted members of the group a copy of the “green-encyclical” and the activists said that they often read it when they are taken back for questioning by the police after their public protests.
Carlotta Muston, 33, said the encyclical “has a very powerful and clear message that can summarize in 60 pages all the complexity that we are living through.”
“It also sheds light on the real problem of the crisis, which is that we will live in a society even more polarized between the poor and the rich,” she said.
Members of Last Generation said that they asked a priest to help them write a letter to Pope Francis seeking his support for the defendants in the trial.
“He is clearly very busy, has a lot to do and there are many secretaries to go through. So far, we have not received an answer,” Juhasz said.
Pope Francis’ message for the World Day for the Care of Creation, which takes place Sept. 1, will be presented at the Vatican on Thursday. For Juhasz, knowing that the pope and they support the same cause makes him feel “a little less alone.”
While many criticize the group’s methods, especially with regard to precious works of art, the activists said their goal is to do something “polarizing that cannot be ignored.”
“We are taking to the streets and stating loudly that we cannot be selfish — because we are talking about our common home, and we need to find a common solution,” Juhasz said.