National Press Club

Catholics address Pope Francis’ U.S. trip in the context of climate change and poverty

September 16, 2015 | By Wesley G. Pippert | PippertW@missouri.edu

Archbishop Wenski leads a panel featuring Dr. Carolyn Woo (left) of Catholic Relief Services and Bishop Oscar Cantú (center left) of Las Cruces, New Mexico to discuss Pope Francis's pending visit to Washington, DC.  Club President John Hughes (center right) moderated the panel.

Archbishop Wenski leads a panel featuring Dr. Carolyn Woo (left) of Catholic Relief Services and Bishop Oscar Cantú (center left) of Las Cruces, New Mexico to discuss Pope Francis's pending visit to Washington, DC. Club President John Hughes (center right) moderated the panel.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Three members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy sought to prepare the way for Pope Francis' U.S. visit by telling a National Press Club Newsmaker Wednesday the papal encyclical on climate change had the human face of some of the world's poorest and most vulnerable people.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski, of Miami, the leader of the group, acknowledged they do not know what Francis will say during the six-day papal visit starting next week. "That's above our pay grade, I guess," Wenski said, adding it was clear they assume the pope would focus on the theme of his encyclical, "Laudato Si."

"It is no surprise that we are told that poor and vulnerable people -- particularly those impacted most by climate change -- deserve our solidarity and attention," Wenski said.

"The voice of the Church is critical to these discussions, ensuring that the cry of the poor is heard, and counseling against wrong-minded solutions," said Bishop Oscar Cantu, of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

In his prepared remarks, Wenski said "the Pope has chosen moments of engagement with the very powerful and the very poor during his visit."

But it was Carolyn Woo's stark examples of the effects of climate change on poor farmers that seemed to grip the Ballroom audience.

Woo, a businesswoman and president of Catholic Relief Services, said very poor people tend to be very small farmers and 80 per cent of them are "very, very vulnerable to climate changes."
They expect the weather to behave in a certain way, and when rain doesn't come, their harvest is affected and they may have no seed for next year, she said. So they have to borrow money at a high interest rate that leaves them heavily in debt.

In East Africa the rains have failed "and we anticipate food insecurity to quadruple in terms of people affected," she said. Also, "we often see disaster along coastal areas -- like Haiti and the Philippines -- where the poorest people live and have no protection."

During Press Club President John Hughes' question-and-answer period, Wenski said Francis liked to use "symbolic gestures" and noted the "crucial" papal role in the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba. By coming directly to the United States from Cuba, Wenski said, the pope is "making an air bridge between the United States and Cuba." Further, he noted that Francis will conduct his first mass in Washington in Spanish.

Politics edged in briefly during during the hour-long Newsmaker. Wenski said this is "a very difficult time for us," and referred to the Supreme Court decision that "we're not very happy about" and yet Francis was going to Philadelphia to speak on the family. Wenski's reference clearly was to the court's ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. Still, he said "Catholics, whether Republican or Democratic, are open to hearing the Pope on climate change."

Cantu said the pope "is calling us to transformation, not simply an economic transformation, but first in the heart. He is calling for conversion, not just by religious people but humanity. We share a common home."