My trip to New York came about because of an encounter between a Catholic Climate Ambassador from Rochester, Dr. Gerry Gaisiach who is also a cardiologist. Gerry was doing a presentation for a Catholic institution that Dr. Curt Stager, professor of Environmental Science at Paul Smith College happened to attend. Dr. Stager does not come from a faith tradition but the message he heard resonated with his own beliefs- especially the words he heard from Laudato Si, the encyclical from Pope Francis. The two men had a conversation that ignited a friendship that led to the idea of bringing the Climate Ambassadors to Paul Smith College to connect with the students, staff and local community.
Paul Smith College is a few minutes from Lake Placud in the gorgeous Adirondack park region of New York State. It is a secular college thay offers degrees in culinary arts, hospitality-tourism, and environmental sciences. Area residents are very concerned about climate change since the region is economically dependent on the winter sports tourist trade. On the way to the college we toured the Olympic training center and saw the empty parking lot where hundreds of cars would’ve been parked in a year with normal snowfall . Cross country skiing enthusiasts usually flock to the area from far away but locals as well. This year there is no snow and as they told us, it is only March.
On Saturday night a large crowd gathered to hear the Catholoc Climate message. Dr. Stager was anxious to have people hear the message because we speak of love and compassion and the poor which is not a usual part of the environmental message. Youth came from the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit organization which is a program of The Wild Center- a local non profit environmental organization. The youth come from both the college and local high schools. The media also attended.
Each ambassador had 5 minutes and I used mine to talk about climate and food and such. Others spoke of science and faith, youth activism, and the need for everyone to work together . We were enthusiastically received by young and old. Questions and comments with people eager to talk to us went on for more than an hour after the scheduled time. I was filled with hope by the youth response but it was the older Catholics who moved me the most. They were happy to hear a message of environmental hope coming from the Pope and they were eager to learn how to get involved.
Hope was our message along with the challenge to live in harmony with God’s creation.