Marc Boucher-Colbert holds a lion's mane mushroom, explaining that he wanted to involve other life forms besides humanity at the Earth Summit, and couldn't get his hands on a blue whale. Alejandro Tecum, program director at Adelante Mujeres, listens. Kristen Hannum/Catholic Sentinel
Marc Boucher-Colbert holds a lion's mane mushroom, explaining that he wanted to involve other life forms besides humanity at the Earth Summit, and couldn't get his hands on a blue whale. Alejandro Tecum, program director at Adelante Mujeres, listens. Kristen Hannum/Catholic Sentinel

The well-spoken man spoke out a bit too late; most of the attendees at the session, “Catholic Farmers Reflect on Pope Francis’ Encyclical” had already stood up, chatting about what they’d heard.

Some were on their way out the door, ready to leave the workshop, one of a dozen at the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO) and Oregon Interfaith Power & Light’s seventh annual Earth Summit, on Jan. 31 at the University of Portland. It was time to go to Bauccio Commons, where there would be dinner and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales speaking.

Others in the audience were at the front of the room, congratulating — and in one case challenging — the presenters.

“I just wanted to say,” said the late speaker to the chaotic room, “that Laudato Si is a gift to the entire world, not just Christians.”

The man’s name was Gulzar Ahmed. He’s Muslim, and has presented on Laudato Si to his faith community. “All faiths should be proud to of what Pope Francis did with Laudato Si,” he said. “It is something that brings people and different faiths together.”

Although few heard Ahmed at that moment, he voiced the spirit of the conference.

“We’re all called to participate,” said Jan Elfers, EMO’s new executive director. “We all need to be awakened to the miracle of creation, and to see our relationship to the earth and to each other with new eyes.”

Nearly 300 people attended the event, which this year focused on the primacy of soil, farming and food.

Three young people led another breakout session on food, climate and the future. Summer Grandy, a University of Portland environmental science student, shared that she sees her future revolving around climate change. “My generation doesn’t have a choice about caring about climate change,” she said.

Tyler Wagner, the food justice coordinator for EMO’s Interfaith Food and Farms Partnership, agreed, saying that while for many years the discussion was couched in terms of what would be happening in 2050 or 2080, there’s more recently been a realization that climate change is already with us. “Climate change is our new reality,” he said.

Wagner said that his Catholic faith gives him an anchor of hope.

In the question segment, Debra Baker, a sophomore at Benson High School, asked the group how she could speak out for change “without being that weird, annoying hippy girl.”

Young Woodley, an intern at the Native American Youth and Family Center  and the third youth panelist, had a ready answer. “I don’t know how you make change without being different,” he counseled.

The conference was a family affair for the Woodleys, as the keynote speaker was Dr. Randy Woodley, a Keetoowah Cherokee who is an author, Baptist preacher, farmer and professor at George Fox University in Newberg.

Dr. Woodley offered stories, history and philosophy, challenging his audience to consider how the world works in a new way — a non-hierarchical, non-Western way.

The summit ended with a different challenge from Mayor Hales. He too offered a story — that of traveling to Rome, to sit in a room with 60 other mayors and Pope Francis. “It was a life-changing experience,” he said.

Mayor Hales’ office had at first thought that the invitation to the Vatican was a prank. Once they determined it was real, he did his homework and read Laudato Si.

Pope Francis told the mayors that they were his instruments for change. Pope Francis inspired the mayor of Paris to ask the group to get together 500 mayors to come to the climate summit there last autumn, to drive more change. The mayors did that, and they, in turn, inspired a virtuous competition to limit greenhouse gasses and limit climate change. “Five hundred mayors made a difference,” he said.

In the same way, Mayor Hales said the people at the Earth Summit were also making a difference. “I’m here to tell you it works,” he said. “Bless you all.”