Minnesotans embrace Pope Francis' statement on climate change

Musician Marty Haugen and Father Joe Weiss
Songwriter Marty Haugen, left, and Father Joe Weiss met up before a prayer and song event to celebrate Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment Thursday at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in St. Paul.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

The call by Pope Francis for the world's leaders and people to dedicate themselves to curbing climate change is being greeted with enthusiasm in Minnesota.

In the pope's encyclical, or teaching document, he called for people to reduce waste, switch to cleaner forms of energy and redefine progress and development.

That struck a chord with Minnesota Catholics who celebrated the pope's message Thursday in St. Paul. At St. Thomas More Catholic Community on Summit Avenue, they sang, prayed and offered some of their own ideas of how to respond.

The Rev. Joseph Weiss, the church's pastor, said the pope is delivering an important message: "That climate change is a moral issue, that the church has an important role to play in the conversation and that this is the time to act."

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Gathering for prayer and song about climate change
To celebrate Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, Catholics and others gathered to sing and listen to speakers talk about climate action.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

The challenge today, Catholics say, is converting his words into action.

Mary Kay Olson, a parishioner at St. Stephen's Catholic Community in Minneapolis, said not long ago she would have felt proud if she recycled. But these days, Olson knows that doing her part against climate change will take much more than that.

She's been working to promote community solar programs that allow low-income people to participate, a key goal of environmental justice.

"If something wasn't done, there would be another instance of the haves and the have-nots," Olson said. "The people who could afford solar could have it; the people who couldn't would not."

Pope Francis has expressed his concern that the poor will experience disproportionate negative effects of climate change. The pope also has lamented pollution, waste and "a throwaway culture."

At a press conference held by the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the church's policy arm in Minnesota, organic dairy farmers Brad and Leanne Donnay of Kimball, Minn., said the pope's message reaffirmed their own values.

Thanking Pope Francis
Tom Bushlack, a theology professor at St. Thomas University, and his three children Sean, 6; Audrey, 4; and Frances, 20 months; posed for a photo after Bushlack spoke about Pope Francis' encyclical.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

"We're working together, we're living together, we're going to church together and it is just reassuring after reading that that we're living our lives the way God wanted us to," Brad Donnay said. "And we're making a living."

Donnay said there's enough demand for organic cheese to allow them to double their operation in size and hire employees. But he said his family prefers keeping things simple.

When Donnay used chemicals on the farm in the past, it gave him a headache and he worried about his family's health.

In his encyclical, the pope calls for sustainable agriculture and notes that pesticides have hurt biodiversity.

Although Minnesota Catholics embraced the pope's message, some Catholic leaders say the document doesn't give many specific policy prescriptions.

That will force parishes to come up with their own solutions, St. Cloud Bishop Donald Kettler said.

Catholics react to Pope's call to save earth
Joanne Tromiczak-Neid, right, and Mary Ahler, left, were among Catholics and others who gathered to celebrate Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

"We seem to be having to go to one side or the other on any issue," Kettler said. "And maybe people will say Pope Francis is going one way or the other, but my feeling is he's saying to us, 'Talk to each other.'"

Kettler said conversations with the youngest parishioners will be especially important, but he believes they will be a receptive audience.

"The problem I see with a lot of our young people is they would say we do need to take care of our environment but then they're called into a culture that is very wasteful and throwaway type," he said. "So how do you bring people from principles to action?"

Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, said one policy Minnesota should consider that fits with the pope's message is boosting the state's renewable energy standard. That's something that Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature have resisted.

Adkins said people should put the planet ahead of politics.

"For those looking at this document and simply trying to use it to grind a partisan ax, there's lots in here to challenge everyone," he said.

For instance, he said, the pope reaffirms the church's anti-abortion stance.

"I think this document is more progressive than any progressive out there on the American landscape today and more conservative than any conservative out there on the landscape today," Adkins said.