Interfaith leaders support papal encyclical on environment

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SHAFAQNA - Catholics, Protestants and Muslims joined Tuesday in support of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment and signed a letter calling on New Mexico civic leaders to address climate change, environmental degradation and poverty.

The letter – signed by 92 clergy and lay members – calls for New Mexicans to support a scathing communique from Pope Francis in June, in which he warned that the planet is “beginning to look like an immense pile of filth,” and drew a connection between climate, pollution and poverty.

Religious leaders announced the letter at a news conference and called for action on issues ranging from clean energy sources to greater support for early childhood programs.

“We do not have unrestricted freedom to misuse creation,” Rabbi Min Kantorwitz said outside St. Therese Catholic School in Albuquerque. “In our ignorance and in our greed we have damaged the world. There is no one else but us to repair it.”

Sister Joan Brown, executive director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, said organizers plan to distribute the letter widely as “an ethical and moral guide” for policymakers as they make decisions about air, water and economic issues.

“This is an opportunity for dialogue about issues that are very difficult and that we are not discussing,” Brown said. “The encyclical needs to start more dialogue leading to action.”

Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Council of Catholic Bishops, said that New Mexicans can expect the state’s three bishops to promote wind and solar energy and increased funding for programs to support children and fight poverty.

“Environmental pollution has a clear connection to poverty,” Sanchez said. “It has the greatest effect on the poor.”

“We have been placed on Earth for the purpose of taking care of it,” said Necip Orhan, a lay Muslim and New Mexico representative for the Dialogue Institute of the Southwest. “We should encourage the idea that less is more.”

Donna McNiel, an Episcopal priest and executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Churches, said the papal encyclical can help build public support for environmental and social support policies.

“We continue building the coalition to the point that elected leaders can’t ignore us,” McNiel said. “We have to get to the point that even the most anti-environmental leaders must shift. I hope it happens before we destroy the nest.”

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