Catholics in Action: Diocese of Orange, Calif. USA: It’s up to all of us!

August 13, 2015

Before an audience of nearly 200 people, Sister Nadine McGuinness sat onstage Saturday at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove and said it is up to all of us to take on what she called global climate change.

“The pope,” said the Sisters of St. Joseph nun, “is very concerned that every single living person is part of the discussion.”

Reporter and columnist David Whiting described the event in the Orange County Register and remarked on the boldness of the Pope’s “encyclical filled with detail about problems as well as solutions. With speed and concern, Orange County’s Roman Catholic spiritual leader, Bishop Kevin Vann, organized Saturday’s conference to explore and tackle the issue.”

Others presenting at the event included Catholic Climate Covenant Ambassador Tony Strawa, a former NASA atmospheric scientist.  Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president of Catholic Relief Services, also addressed the crowd.

Introducing a prayer for the conference, Vann quoted Pope Benedict XVI, noting he laid the groundwork for such an encyclical. Several years ago, Benedict reminded people that we need to strengthen “that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God.”

Whiting described the exchange that occurred:

Of course, this is the United States. And that means some at the conference took exception to the pope’s encyclical, just as some American Catholics nearly always disagree with messages from the Vatican.

Yet what ensued during the brief shouting match was so inspiring it made you believe we can come together and solve climate change.


The panel moderator described a cartoon. In it, a panel was doing exactly what was happening at Christ Cathedral – describing ways to solve the planet-wide problem.  “What if it’s a big hoax,” one wag in the cartoon asks, “and we build a better world for nothing?”  The small joke had a big point. There are no downsides to tackling such challenges as poverty and pollution.

Rosenhauer, the Catholic Relief Services worker, noted that already Earth is experiencing rising temperatures, more severe storms and severe drought. “By the middle of 2020,” she said, “1 million farmers will be affected.”

To survive, those farmers will have to change their ways of growing crops, Rosenhauer predicted. It is up to developed nations and the United States in particular to help. She predicted by 2020, $100 billion will be needed to solve problems caused by climate change.

The poor – those without options – are the first affected. Already, some villages that once stood on land in low-lying areas are now underwater. With no place to go, villagers build rickety homes on stilts and raw sewage and garbage pollute local seas.

She noted more than 6,000 people died two years ago in the Philippines when Typhoon Haiyan swept through. She allowed more epic storms are likely. Rosenhauer offered a quick list of things relief workers already are working on: showing people in developing nations how to tie down roofs before storms hit, training people to build portable stoves so when they need to flee they can cook and boil water and teaching watershed management to capture water and replenish underground aquifers.

She noted that many African women, especially the young, walk for hours to collect water. After solar or wind-powered pumps are installed, those same young women instead can learn to read and write. As she spoke, the screen slide quoted Catholic Relief Services’ slogan, “Faith, action, results.”

Then Rosenhauer zeroed in on one mother she met in Ethiopia. She asked the mom, “What difference did having water make?” The mother’s quiet reply: “It meant none of my children died this year.”  There were murmurs in the audience and more than a few wet eyes.


Strawa, the NASA scientist, spoke like, well, a scientist – but with a twist. He started off quoting Albert Einstein: “Science without religion is blind.”

I’ll mention that Einstein being Einstein reportedly added a refrain: “Religion without science is lame.” Still, both concepts shared the stage equally on Saturday at what was once Crystal Cathedral.

“The pope is challenging each of us to step up,” Strawa said. “His encyclical affects all of us.”

Strawa backed up his statement with statistics: Pollution costs $200 million in medical expenses; 80 percent of lung disease is caused by air pollution; each year, air pollution’s effects cause 25,000 Californians to die premature deaths.

Answering a question about this nation’s standing to preach to poor countries about what they should do, Strawa responded that the U.S. has learned from its mistakes and has a responsibility to share that knowledge.

The scientist also offered that global average temperatures have increased for several decades because of the way we handle everything from fossil fuels to forests.


When I drove onto the Christ Cathedral campus, half a dozen protesters gathered at the entrance.

Orange County Tea PartySome criticized what they called the new church; others scoffed at climate change. But during the panel discussion, it appeared additional demonstrators showed up to either agitate or save their church. You pick.

One woman walked out, saying she couldn’t take it anymore. A man shouted – and didn’t stop shouting – that he wanted his old church back. I’m not sure what church he was talking about. The Vatican long has advocated life, whether being against abortion or for the planet.

Soon, there was a cacophony of shouts. At that moment, the moderator suggested everyone rise and say the Lord’s Prayer. Nearly everyone stood.

Within seconds, the shouting disappeared into some 200 voices that became as one. “Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in heaven.”

Like climate change, it wasn’t a planned moment. But it was powerful one. And it offered hope.

ACTION NOTE:  This important presentation was co-sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange.  The event was advertised in advance and tickets were offered.  The announcement was as follows at

This presentation and community forum will focus on the theology of the encyclical, the global impact of climate change on the poor, and help build a scientific understanding of climate change and offer a context for how we can begin to address this seminal issue in our own lives and society. Attendees will have the chance to connect with various agencies working on this issue and leave with practical steps for community and parish engagement. This important presentation is co-sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange.


  • Welcome
    • Most Rev. Kevin Vann, Bishop of Orange
  • Theological reflection on Laudato Si
    • Sister Nadine McGuinness, CSJ, St Joseph Center, Orange
  • Science behind climate change and needed elements to address
    • Tony Strawa, PhD, Catholic Climate Ambassador. Dr. Strawa has spent 20 years as an Atmospheric Scientist with NASA, and is currently the Chair of the Diocese of San Jose Climate Change Initiative.
  • Impact of climate change on the poor
    • Joan Rosenhauer, Catholic Relief Services, Executive Vice President, U.S. Operations
  • Panel Discussion
  • Closing prayer
    • Bishop Kevin Vann