Central Valley Youth Say Pope’s Message ‘Already Having an Impact’

September 25, 2015 /

By New America Media’s Youthwire

Image: Boaz Guttman

Ed. Note: The Pope’s visit to the United States comes as the U.S. Catholic Church is undergoing a dramatic shift driven in large part by demographic changes happening across the nation. Today’s Catholic heart of America lies in the West, in places like California’s Central Valley, where a fast rising immigrant – and largely Latino – population is filling church pews to the brim.

California is also where many of the most pressing issues raised by the pontiff – from climate change to LGBTQ rights and immigration – remain at the fore of political debate. YouthWire asked its youth reporters to weigh in on some of the Pope’s positions on climate change, gay rights and immigration, and what his message might mean for their communities.

On Climate Change:

“Climate change is a global problem with grave implications … It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” – from “Care for Our Common Home” encyclical, May 2015

Edgar Moreno, 17, South Kern

America is a very religious country … I believe that if a man with religious authority like the Pope says that we should help prevent climate change then a good majority of Americans will follow.

Kody Stobig, 24, Fresno

I have already begun to see an impact on my community … Pope Francis has opened the eyes of many who have previously refused to accept the word of scientists or environmentalists. His actions have helped to bridge the gap between the two sides of the climate change argument.

Suhgeyri Jarquin, 17, Merced

Many people in Merced look up to Pope Francis. He inspires them. People are already coming up with ways to conserve water and not contaminate the air as much. There is also growing support for environmental bills like SB 350 and SB 32 that were created to curb pollution and improve people’s health.

Miguel Bibanco, 20, Fresno

The Pope’s stance on climate change has already begun to influence my community. I’m seeing more community organizations and faith-based groups lead the call to action on environmental justice and I know that many of them have mentioned the Pope’s message as a source of inspiration.

Mariah Smith, 19, Long Beach

I can see the Catholic community beginning to preach an environmentally friendly lifestyle to preserve the purity of life forms on Gods’ green earth. I can envision e-waste events held on weekends, and garden beautification events being held at Catholic churches to bring the community together.

Carmen Orozco, 19, Merced

Like the Pope said, we share a “common home.”

On LGBTQ Rights:

In 2013, Pope Francis famously said to a reporter, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Yaneli Maldonado, 16, Merced

Catholics need to accept the LGBTQ community. We are taught that we should love each other so we also have to love gay people. The right thing to do is to accept them into our church and remind people that God loves them like he loves everyone else.

Amalia Lopez, 16, South Kern

Pope Francis’ words of compassion are a step forward, but they can’t atone for the generations of hate the Church has inflicted on LGBTQ people. Just because Pope Francis is accepting doesn’t guarantee that the next Pope, and subsequent Popes after will be. Anti-LGBTQ people are not likely to change their attitudes on behalf of one Pope.

Kody Stobig, 24, Fresno

As such a powerful figure, Pope Francis has the responsibility to take his compassion even farther. Instead of just focusing on not judging the LGBTQ community, he should be focusing on accepting them as equals. He has the power to lead millions of people into a new and more accepting era.

 Carlos Ramirez, 16, South Kern

I am an atheist and so do not really have a stance on what the Pope says. I do, though, support acceptance by the church of LGBTQ people. They should not be condemned for who they love.

Jose ‘Chino’ Gonzalez, 24, Merced

There is a lot of ignorance in our church and … a lot of people who are not well informed regarding certain issues. It is my duty, as a person of faith, to change that and be to the voice for those who are suffering injustice.

On Immigration:

A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone – moving away from attitudes of defensives and fear … towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world.” –Pope Francis

Randy Villegas, 20, South Kern

I believe this Pope truly has the opportunity to open the door for bi-partisan comprehensive immigration reform. If those in Congress who claim to be people of faith open their hearts and ears to what the Pope has to say, they will reach across the aisle to find ways to help those who come here seeking a better life.

Yaneli Maldonado, 16, Merced

The Pope is an immigrant, so yes, people love him and they will listen to what he has to say. This country needs someone like him to help pass immigration reform and stop separating families. If people are religious and really love God, they will listen to the Pope’s advice.

Maria Garcia, 16, Coachella

It would take something very big to change stances on immigration even a little bit. And with the coming election I feel as though the Pope’s words will go “in one ear, and out the other.”

Jose ‘Chino’ Gonzalez, 24, Merced

I think the Pope is changing how Latino citizens view politics. We know the Latino vote is crucial …The Pope is very important in our community, so Latino voters are going to take his stance into consideration and vote accordingly.

Karla Martinez, 16, Coachella

I was raised as Catholic and I was always taught that it is my God given right to voice my opinion and speak on things that benefit my community as a whole.

Miguel Bibanco, 20, Fresno

The Pope’s stance on immigration compels us to take a more humane look at the way we think about immigrant rights. His words are timely as we find ourselves surrounded by anti-immigrant rhetoric from leading public figures and potential presidential candidates.

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