WASHINGTON - Long before Pope Francis' encyclical on care for
creation was released, it was providing a boost for a group
of women struggling to keep the negative influences of
modern-day life from erasing valued Mexican traditions and
treasured cultural practices along the Mexico-Texas border.
The dozens of members of El Paso, Texas-based La Mujer Obrera
(Women Workers) see the document as a validation of their
efforts, according to Lorena Andrade, the organization's
"Everybody talks about progress," Andrade told Catholic News
Service. "Their (mainstream culture) definition of progress
is not how we define it on the border, but in how we as women
From farming practices to how children are raised, members of
the Catholic Campaign for Human Development-funded
organization have rooted themselves in the earth, she
"When we are working on the land, it's not about how much we
produce to sell. While that's important, it's more what is
our connection to the land and what our practices are
bringing to the land. It's Mother Earth and us fighting for
Andrade said the women with whom she works hope Pope Francis'
call for simpler lifestyles, practices that protect creation,
less consumption and greater respect for diversity will
legitimize what La Mujer Obrera has been doing since it was
established in response to the lost jobs that the North
American Free Trade Agreement brought to El Paso more than
two decades ago.
"It almost feels like we can use that document to organize
the women, but also to be able to clarify our arguments about
the way we live," Andrade said. "It helps with some of the
answers to our questions. Our life is about questions. We
don't have a lot of answers. As women, we want the space to
figure that out collectively."
Elsewhere, the encyclical, titled "Laudato Si', on Care for
Our Common Home," was held up as an important work to help
understand the theological basis and a presenting a moral
imperative for protecting the earth and its inhabitants -
human, plants and animals.
Observers held up various points Pope Francis makes in the
encyclical, especially the importance of remembering the
lives of poor people around the world and how they are
affected not just by climate change, the effect of economic
decisions on the environment, the wasteful use of earth's
resources and the growing rift between people with access to
technology and those without.
"This is a huge moment for the Catholic community and for the
world," said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic
Climate Covenant. "It's not that the pope has decided to
release this just to the Catholic bishops or the Catholic
community, but as he has said the intended audience is
Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action
Network, agreed, saying the encyclical calls "people around
the world ... to really look carefully at our lifestyle."
"He makes the connection between our lifestyle and the
destruction of the environment," Carolan said.
In response, the Franciscan Action Network is taking several
actions itself including a meatless Friday campaign in line
with the long-standing Catholic practice of abstaining from
meat one day a week. Carolan said that in addition to being a
way to come closer to God, cutting back on meat consumption
will ease stress on the environment because of the massive
amount of energy used and waste generated through meat
Paula Garcia, executive director of New Mexico Acequia
Association, said the pope's concerns about water parallel
those of residents in the northern part of the state. Under
its mission statement, the association believes "water is
life" and has achieved major policy changes locally and
statewide to protect rural and agricultural water rights.
"It's such an affirmation to see that our pope is taking
leadership responsibility and making statement publicly about
the need for us to address (climate change) and protect
creation," said Garcia, who also is in her second term as a
county commissioner in Mora County, northeast of Santa Fe.
"Having the encyclical coming out at this time is really
critical. Not just politics at the global level, but it's
important for people who go to church every Sunday. It brings
a lot of these social justice and environmental justice
issues into mainstream conversations," she said.
Jay Richards, assistant research professor of business at The
Catholic University of America, said he wanted to explore the
pope's words as they relate to the relationship of humans to
the environment as much as their ties to church and society.
Anticipating that the pope would "come down strongly that
humans are responsible for global warming," Richards said he
expects that part of the encyclical will get much of the
attention with some comments being taken out of context while
the pope's moral perspectives and the theological basis for
his concerns will be widely missed.
Christian Brother Charles Hilken, director of the Bishop John
S. Cummins Institute for Catholic Thought, Culture and Action
at St. Mary's College of California, believes the encyclical
is a "call to action" to individuals as well as elected
officials and economic powers.
"(It is) written with a sense of urgency and also reserve
(about the science of climate change)," he said.
At the same time, Brother Hilken expects the pope to be
patient and open to dialogue as the encyclical is studied and
Sister Paula Gonzalez, a Sister of Charity in Cincinnati, a
longtime environmentalist who is known as the "solar nun" for
her support for the development of alternative energy
systems, told Catholic News Service the pope's message "is
going to thrust the question of planetary realities through
Noting that the timing of the document falls three months
before Pope Francis' planned visit to the United States and
five months before U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris,
she called his document "a gift."
"People of every faith and not faith are waiting to see what
he has to say," she said. "Everybody in their gut knows we
have gotten way too greedy, way too spoiled. We have become
addicts of fossil fuels and addiction is a terrible
In Minnesota, the members of the Hmong American Farmers
Association were looking forward to learning more about the
encyclical's references to climate change because their
livelihoods can be affected by changing weather patterns.
Pakou Hang, the association's executive director, told CNS
that members of the group were enthusiastic that their
practices - diverse crops, smaller acreage, successive
harvesting, sustainable practices that preserve topsoil -
would be among the kind supported by the pope.
"It will give us more evidence that farming on a smaller
scale with diverse crops ... is actually good for the
environment," she said.
Contributing to this report was Daniel O'Shea in Washington.
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