Pope Francis is shown praying at an Austro-Hungarian cemetery for fall soldiers of World War I in Fogliano di Redipuglia, northern Italy, Sept. 13, 2014. The pope in his encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," released June 18, said all cr eation is singing God's praise but people are silencing it.
Pope Francis is shown praying at an Austro-Hungarian cemetery for fall soldiers of World War I in Fogliano di Redipuglia, northern Italy, Sept. 13, 2014. The pope in his encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," released June 18, said all cr eation is singing God's praise but people are silencing it.

Pope Francis’ new encyclical, “Laudato Si: on Care for Our Common Home,” is a prime example of what the church needs to be doing — looking beyond itself, says the leader of Jesuits in the Northwest.

“What is most exciting is that it is very much in keeping with Pope Francis and the church needing to get outside of itself to address the greatest needs of the human family,” says Father Scott Santarosa, provincial superior of the Jesuits in Oregon and California. “It is precisely the kind of issue the church needs to be concerned about.” 

Father Santarosa recalls that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, a Jesuit and the future Pope Francis, would often talk about how Jesus was knocking at the door of the church — not to get in, but to get out into the rest of the world.

“The pope is saying, ‘How can you say this is not a moral issue when care for the environment affects so many people?’” Father Santarosa says. 

The priest believes the encyclical may catch the attention of Northwesterners who have not paid much attention to the church before.

“People might think, ‘The church is more relevant than thought it was,’” Father Santarosa says. “The church may regain some credibility.”

Matt Cato, director of the Archdiocese of Portland’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace, says the encyclical is authentic teaching of the Church, based on scripture and tradition. 

“To the Catholic faithful, it cannot be dismissed as one man's opinion with a political aim. The encyclical is as authentic teaching of the Catholic Church as is ‘Humanae Vitae’ and ‘Caritas in Veritate,’” Cato says, referring to past papal teachings on the dignity of life and the central role of charity.

Cato urges people to read the encyclical instead of relying on excerpts in the media.

“Just as you would the Gospel, read it and let the words sink in; with the guidance of the Holy Spirit let the truth come to you,” he says.

Sister of St. Mary of Oregon Charlene Herinckx, superior general, said she's been talking about the encyclical for more than a week, anticipating its release. "It's exciting that our Holy Father is challenging us to be involved and not just wait for events to overtake us."

The encyclical, she says, is a perfect fit for where the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon community is with their goals for the next five years. They'll be studying the document together. "People didn't believe this ten years ago," she says. "We've come a long ways."

Reaction from the pews was positive, and showed resolve to take up the effort.

“What Pope Francis has said through his encyclical is important and inspiring, but for the encyclical to have meaning measurable action must be taken by the Vatican, dioceses, religious orders, schools, parishes and parishioners to be thoughtful consumers and investors and to reduce waste,” says Pat Walsh, a member of St. Thomas More Newman Center in Eugene and CEO of Vox Public Relations. “Pope Francis' words are wonderful, but we must commit to breathe life into those words beyond the encyclical's announcement. A few years back, our company looked at ways to reduce, reuse and recycle — we will now do that again in the coming weeks.”

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 director.

"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 live it."

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 explained.

"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 our survival."

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 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 everyone."

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 production.

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 analyzed.

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 the church."

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 situation."

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.

Others, like Dr. Steven Kolmes, director of the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Portland were excited about the tone of the encyclical.

“This encyclical is deeply optimistic, it says there is time to act if we do so now, and begs us all to remember our better selves and to do so,” said Dr. Steven Kolmes, director of the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Portland.

“Like our own regional document,  "The Columbia River Watershed: Caring for Creation and the Common Good - An International Pastoral Letter by the Catholic Bishops of the Watershed Region" whose process I was privileged to participate in, the encyclical is a reminder of what we might do together if we choose to act in a way that cares for others, but also a reminder of what direction we move in now. Only the voice of faith has the ethical compass we need to discern the meaning of both positive and negative directions.”