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2/16/2017 9:00:00 AM
'Climate ambassador' speaks at Copake Falls parish
REV. GEORGE BRENNAN LISTENS as Dr. Gacioch addresses parishioners of Our Lady of Hope Church.
REV. GEORGE BRENNAN LISTENS as Dr. Gacioch addresses parishioners of Our Lady of Hope Church.

Last weekend, the parish of Our Lady of Hope in Copake Falls welcomed a "climate ambassador" from the U.S. bishops' Catholic Climate Covenant.

Dr. Gerald Gacioch came to the Diocese Feb. 11-12 to talk to the rural parish about environmental issues on behalf of the Catholic Climate Covenant -- which, its website notes, urges "people and institutions to care for creation and care for the poor."

The covenant, a partnership between the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and national groups like Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services and a dozen others, was created in 2006 by the USCCB to respond to the environmental aspect of the Church's call to care for creation.

Dr. Gacioch, who is chief of cardiology at Rochester General Hospital, has been involved with the Catholic Climate Covenant for almost 10 years.

Ambassadors all over
As a "climate ambassador," he speaks to area audiences on Catholic teaching about ecology and what people can do to protect the Earth and its people. The Climate Covenant currently has such ambassadors in about 17 U.S. states.

Dr. Gacioch helped to found the "Care of God's Creation" ministry at his parish, the Church of the Transfiguration in the Rochester Diocese, and has a particular focus in his talks on Catholic social teaching and the need to care for the poor.

"My love for the environment is what started it," Dr. Gacioch said of his work as a climate ambassador. "Early on, it was talking about climate change and working to turn around climate change skeptics."

The publication in 2015 of "Laudato Si'," Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, gave the movement a boost: "We had tremendous amount of material to work with."

Lately, Dr. Gacioch noted, the conversation about climate issues has become more based on politics and plans by new U.S. President Donald Trump to undo some environmental protections.

The doctor was invited to speak at Our Lady of Hope in Copake Falls by the parish's human development committee. The group brings in two speakers a year -- one national, one local -- to address parishioners on issues of interest. Previous speakers have addressed migrant rights and women's issues.

Local talk
At Our Lady of Hope, Dr. Gacioch focused on taking action, keeping the faith and reducing one's own carbon footprint. He urged Catholics to make their voices heard in this political climate.

"People are discouraged," Dr. Gacioch noted. "They are afraid. They don't see how we can move forward in the current environment."

For parishioners at Our Lady of Hope, having a fresh face talking about such an important issue revitalized the cause. Previously, the parish had participated in a group reading of "Laudato Si'" and hosted a documentary film series on environmental issues.

"He combined being optimistic and being pragmatic and practical," said parishioner May Paddock after Dr. Gacioch's visit. She liked the climate ambassador's description of reducing his carbon footprint by riding his bicycle to work, helping the environment, his body and his bank account.

Catholics' concerns
Kathy Montose of OLH is particularly concerned about the Dakota Access Pipeline. She had thought there was no stopping the pipeline's construction, which will run through the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Opponents say that's sacred land and worry about contamination of the water supply.

Dr. Gacioch reassured the community that, although DAPL has gotten a greenlight from the government, there is still time and hope for the people of Standing Rock.

"How can every single person not want to leave a safer environment for the next generation?" Ms. Montose told The Evangelist.

For Dr. Gacioch, speaking to parish communities is a chance to raise people's spirits in challenging times. "The country has gotten very polarized," he said, but environmental issues are something upon which all Catholics should agree.

(For information on booking Dr. Gacioch to speak at a parish, go to www.catholicclimatecovenant.org.)

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