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CRS president calls for climate change awareness at Stonehill lecture


Catholic Relief Services president and CEO Carolyn Woo delivers her lecture "I am Climate Change" at Stonehill College, March 1. Pilot photo/Mark Labbe

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NORTH EASTON -- The pope's recent encyclical, "Laudato Si': On the Care of our Common Home," delivers a powerful message on the importance of caring for the environment, a message that Catholic Relief Services (CRS) president and CEO Carolyn Woo echoed during a lecture at Stonehill College, March 1.

Woo, who spoke at the Vatican when Pope Francis released the encyclical last year, talked about climate change and its effects on people around the world to about 200 attendees in a lecture entitled "I am Climate Change."

In particular, Woo spoke about how climate change affects the underprivileged, such as the small farmers in Central America who are now struggling to plant crops due to warmer, dryer conditions and unpredictable weather patterns.

"These people are all completely dependent on the climate... They are the poorest people, and they are bearing the consequences," she said.

However, Woo made it clear that climate change affects people in all walks of life, and should be acknowledged and addressed by humanity as a whole.

"What we really need is a new heart, an ecological conversion... We need to develop a lot of solutions, but what drives them is not the solutions themselves but is us," she said.

Following her address, Woo took questions from audience members.

One man, who said he had read "Laudato Si'," noted that the encyclical does not go into detail on what measures the Catholic Church will take to combat climate change. He asked why that was and if she knew of ways the Church is taking action.

"It's not meant for just a Catholic audience... I think the pope was writing for the whole world," said Woo.

However, she said, the Church is working to develop resources for more clergy members "to speak about this particular issue," and she noted that various diocese are trying to renovate their older buildings, although they are often working with limited budgets.

In response to another question, which asked how America can "break out of the passivity" it has towards climate change, Woo noted that people in the U.S. are somewhat insulated from the effects of climate change.

"I think in the U.S., if you don't want to know, you don't have to know" about the effects of climate change, she said.

"I think that's why it is incumbent on us, particularly as Catholics, to want to know... It starts with wanting to know," she said.

Speaking to The Pilot following the lecture, Woo said she hopes the students who attended "feel empowered to take action" to combat climate change.

"We require everyone to be involved, and to take the measures, and no one can give up. This is our world, this is your world, and I hope people feel informed, empowered, and inspired," she said.

Among those who joined the reception following the lecture was Bridget Meigs. Meigs, who is manager of The Farm at Stonehill, a campus-run farm that provides fresh produce to local food pantries, told The Pilot how working with the land can make people more aware of any changes to the environment.

"When you grow something, you have to aware of the rain, you have to be aware of the soil... Everyone has to have at least one plant at their house outside so they see what happens by it," she said.

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