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Pope’s Stance On Climate Change Has Local Resonance

Inside a radially configured sanctuary — more akin to a tree house than a cathedral — Father Tom Yurchak peers out at Eugene’s grassy South Hills through a spotless panorama of oversized panes. “Our ‘stained glass’ windows,” he says. “Through them, we watch the seasons change.”

Yurchak, pastor of St. Jude Catholic Church, feels fortunate to even have four seasons at his disposal. He is mulling over the words of Pope Francis, who last week published Laudato Si, a near 200-page encyclical, spelling out the human suffering that emerges from global environmental degradation: “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications … It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

“My hope,” Yurchak says, “is that people read this and think, ‘What can we be doing locally?’” 

Yurchak says he’s concerned over the ease with which we can colonize the globe with pollution from the comfort of our own stable ecosystem. “You can’t just have the newest and best everything. You have to learn to say no. We’re asking you to consume less,” he says. “And I know that’s a hard sell. It shouldn’t be, but it is.”

The pope’s report merges hard scientific data with biblical scripture, challenging Catholics to be critical of a “throwaway culture” that has led humanity to a lack of clean drinking water and generally “a decline in the quality of human life.” 

The report was essentially crowd-sourced, allowing Pope Francis to focus on those populations whom bishops and cardinals around the world identified as the poorest and most marginalized — those disproportionately afflicted by climate change and least adaptable to drought and flood conditions.

Oregon can boast a low carbon footprint, but that won’t prevent the state from feeling the effects of violent interregional shifts in weather activity. While Catholic bishops in southern California are literally praying for rain, experts predict that the drought will spend the summer creeping further into eastern Oregon, even Washington. Farmers can expect record heat and meager rainfall. Gov. Kate Brown has declared a drought in 19 Oregon counties, including Lane County.

It is precisely in the face of such challenges that the report was released. While ostensibly it is an apolitical document, Pope Francis speaks to the times in a way that demands action. The title Laudato Si derives from a hymn, “Canticle of the Sun,” composed by St. Francis of Assisi some 600 years prior to the advent of the internal combustion engine. Assisi calls this planet “our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us.” 

Find the pope’s full encyclical letter at wkly.ws/21c.