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Hope for a New Climate after the Pope’s Speech…

UPDATED 11:22AM: For grammar & clarity.

One Night Only. St. Mary's Auditorium (created via getty images & google image search)

One Night Only. St. Mary’s Auditorium (created via getty images & google image search)

LONGMEADOW—Some nine hours after its first run, in the gymnasium of St. Mary’s Academy there was an encore performance of Pope Francis’ historic speech to Congress. Yet this was a not a later screening organized by the adjoining church. Supporters of action on climate change had assembled to hear from the Argentine pontiff, who has made preserving the environment a key part of his papacy.

Francis emphasized climate change more pointedly Friday at the United Nations, but it was among the many issues he discussed in his Congressional remarks Thursday morning. His overarching message centered on not just urging Congress to free itself from legislative gridlock, but for all Americans to join together to address, among other issues, poverty, immigration and climate change.

“A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk,” Francis said to Congress. “Legislative activity is always based on care for the people.”

The pope’s message, is “challenging individuals into actions,” Mark Pohlman, one of the organizers of the watch party said. “Ordinary people can do it by promoting dialogue.”

Francis had long telegraphed a concern for the environment, partly as a reflection of his focus on the poor (who suffer the brunt of environmental degradation) and the common good. This summer, he released a papal encyclical, Laudato Si’, which specifically called for arresting man-made climate change.  In it, he made a religious case, bolstered by science, for the world to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” and act to save it.

“I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States–and this Congress–have an important role to play,” Francis told Congress, referring to climate change.

Pope Francis addressing Congress (via’osservatore Romano)

That potent call from the Vatican for action on climate—among other progressive causes—has rallied and excited activists in the United States. The watch party here was one of three in the Pioneer Valley alone, and offered an opportunity to emphasize other efforts to address the issue.

In the almost cinema-like gym, about 50 people watched the speech, though some activists lamented that the average attendee skewed older.

After the screening, organizers and the audience discussed the speech and opportunities for action.

Michele Marantz, of Longmeadow, told the audience of efforts to divest the commonwealth’s pension funds of fossil fuels and raise Massachusetts’s net-metering cap, which affects the viability of renewable energy projects.

The Massachusetts Senate is expected raise the cap—both Senators Benjamin Downing and Eric Lesser have mentioned it in recent interviews—and Governor Charlie Baker has said he would sign a bill to that effect. The challenge remains the House. Marantz implored the audience to contact their rep to lobby for House passage.


Pope swag at the climate watch party in Longmeadow (WMassP&I)

Although many of Springfield’s suburbs have been increasingly identified as right-leaning, Longmeadow has been sliding in the other direction and most wealthy communities in the region also have their eco-contingents, anyway.

Pohlman also serves as the chairman of Transition Longmeadow, a group working to move off and/or minimize the usage of fossil fuels, among other environmental endeavors. The group, he said, is nonpartisan and nonreligious, but has partnered with local Democratic to publicize fair carbon legislation, while also seeking common ground with others on green issues.

Transition Longmeadow has taken a few “first small steps” to reduce the town’s carbon footprint such as helping to secure funding for more energy efficient lighting and promoting bicycling and recycling. “We have a long way to go,” Pohlman cautioned, and “the time we have to work is short,” particularly when relying on the legislative process.

Pope Francis enters the chamber of the US House of Representatives (via’osservatore Romano)

The focus Thursday night was the speech and the pope himself, who has inspired millions with his humility, humanity and emphasis on the least among us. Both Marantz and Pohlman noted how Francis loaded himself into a fuel efficient Fiat—though surrounded by Secret Service Suburbans—rather than some more regal vessel.

Marantz added, “I like the fact that he said we can make a difference.” She recalled someone telling her once that “cynicism is complacency,” but, referring to the Pope’s speech, “I felt it was very empowering, as an America who cares about climate change, to know that we can make a difference.”

The Reverend Francis Reilly, pastor of Saint Mary’s Church, highlighted how the pope gently prodded lawmakers to make laws while urging all Americans, in Reilly’s words, “to be more mindful of their responsibilities to make the world a better place.”

The pope’s encyclical on climate change fit perfectly with that broader message. After all, it calls for “common care for our common mother Earth,” Reilly observed.