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World weighs in on 'Laudato Si''

Editor's note: NCR will be tracking reception worldwide to Pope Francis' environmental encyclical, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home." Check back at this post throughout the day as it is updated with the latest reactions. 


U.N. chiefs applaud pope’s moral leadership on climate change

In separate statements, the past two heads of the United Nations welcomed the moral leadership on climate change Pope Francis brought through his environmental encyclical.

“I thank deeply Pope Francis for taking such a strong stand on the need for urgent global action. His moral voice is part of a growing chorus of people from all faiths and all sectors of society speaking out for climate action,” said Ban Ki-moon, the current U.N. secretary-general, in a post on a LinkedIn blog.

Ban and Francis met in April ahead of a summit on climate change and sustainable development hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Rome. Ban said the two discussed the importance of all humankind coming together to address climate change, “one of the principal challenges facing the human community.”

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Francis made a similar statement in Laudato Si’: “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, eco­nomic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal chal­lenges facing humanity in our day.”

“Pope Francis and I agree that climate change is a moral issue that requires collective urgent action. It is an issue of social justice, human rights and fundamental ethics.

“People everywhere share a responsibility to care for and protect our common home, our one and only planet Earth,” said Ban, adding that he urged governments to put the global common good above national interests when they gather in December in Paris for the potential adoption of a universal climate agreement.

Climate change is “an all-encompassing threat,” said Ban’s predecessor Kofi Annan, who led the U.N. from 1997 to 2006, one that endangers security health, and food and water sources and could displace tens of millions of people.

Annan applauded the pope for his moral and leadership, adding “We need more of such inspired leadership.”

“Will we see it at the climate summit in Paris?" he said.

--- Brian Roewe
posted at 5:40 p.m., cst


Climate change least important piece of encyclical, Weigel says

Although widely celebrated, the encyclical has not been without its critics. The pope’s distaste in the document for consumerism and poverty has ignited defense from free-market advocates, skeptical of where the pope places blame.

Kishore Jayabalan, director of Acton Institute, said that while he welcomes Laudato Si’, he was disappointed in the “overwhelming attribution” the pope placed on market economics, rather than sin, for the world’s environmental and social damage. Though work remains to be done, he said, economics has helped reduce poverty and allowed people to achieve sustainable development.

“I am therefore curious as to what the Holy Father would want us to do in this much-criticized global economy?” Jayabalan said. “Would making everyone materially poorer make us spiritually richer? Perhaps for some, but not for those who lack the basic necessities of life … I would like to think that the pope wants us to become more mindful and intentional in what we do and to live with a spirit of detachment as we engage the very marketplace he seems to condemn.”

Rather than condemn economic development, he should champion it, said E. Calvin Beisner in a statement, founder of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, a Christian organization and member of the climate skeptical Heartland Institute. The policies Francis recommends would make it more difficult to overcome poverty, he said.

“Ironically, by prolonging and even spreading poverty, those policies would put more of the natural environment at risk…Wealth enables people to afford better environmental stewardship,” Beisner said.

But don’t let climate change steal the encyclical-thunder: In the National Review, George Weigel wrote that we mustn’t confuse this encyclical to be solely about the environment, but about us -- human ecology.

He noted that publications have been omitting Francis’ pro-life aspect, as the encyclical said that environmentalists who rightly demand limitations on scientific research also “fail to apply those same principles to human life.” Francis also tackled the transgender issue -- which Weigel called the “cause de jour” -- when discussing how we must accept our bodies as God’s gift.

In the chapter on integral ecology, Francis wrote: “The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its full meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology.

“Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the gift of God the creator, and find mutual enrichment,” the pope said.

It will be tempting to refer to this as the “global-warming encyclical,” Weigel wrote. “But the label will be misleading, I think, not because there isn’t a lot about climate change in the encyclical, but because that’s, to my mind, the least important part of Francis-the-pastor’s call to a more integral, indeed more humanistic ecology.”

--- Soli Salgado
​posted at 5:09 p.m., cst


Catholic groups offer praise for ‘Laudato Si’’

A contingent of some of the more notable Catholic associations in the U.S., particularly on environmental issues, offered nothing but praise for Pope Francis’ encyclical.

The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas said they have been “eagerly awaiting” the encyclical and were pleased with the connections the pope made between concern for the poor and concern for creation -- a central tenant for the sisters.

“We believe this is one of the great moral issues of our time and for us a compelling and urgent call to respond,” the Mercy Sisters said in a statement.

They said that through their ministry work in the U.S., Latin America, the Caribbean and the Philippines, they have witnessed the links among climate change, environmental destruction, and the plights of immigrants, women and children, and victims of violence and racism.

“We worry about even greater suffering given forecasts for increased climate refugees, environmental-related conflicts and food crises if we do not act,” the sisters said.

Jim Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural Life, told NCR that the pope made the point clearly that humans have a responsibility to keep and till creation.

"This encyclical reminds farmers that they are called to a vocation, a way of life, and not just a way to make a living. ... How we farm has a considerable impact on everything around us, from human nutrition and opportunities for fulfilling work, to the well-being of our waters and forests and ecosystems," he said. 

Ennis added the encyclical helped spotlight the role of agriculture in addressing environmental degradation, but also its part in the larger whole, such as how ecological crises like climate change can negatively impact farming worldwide, and or an unrestricted globalized economy can bring hardships for farmers and laborers in poorer countries. A week from Saturday, Catholic Rural Life will hold a symposium in Milan on "Faith, Food, Agriculture and the Environment," where Cardinal Peter Turkson will speak will discuss Laudato Si' from a farming perspective. 

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good said that Francis, his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI and the church recognize protecting creation as “first and foremost a religious issue,” one that “is a response to God’s ancient request” to be good stewards of the land.

“Just as the Church is unafraid to defend the dignity of the child in the womb, we cannot be afraid to defend the dignity of those who are the victims of a global economy that kills through environmental exploitation, rampant consumerism, and structural inequalities,” the group said in a statement.

Dominican Sr. Donna Markham, president of Catholic Charities USA, said she hopes the encyclical “will inform, inspire and influence discussion” on the need for people to care for the environment and one another, particularly the marginalized.

“This encyclical is a call to the world to care for our common home and improve our relationship with our natural and social environments. I know our network will be prayerfully reflecting on how best to serve, advocate, and convene around these issues, and I look forward to learning alongside of them,” she said.

Catholic Charities said it has planned several workshops on the encyclical for its annual meeting, set for Sept. 10-12 in Omaha.

The Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach called the encyclical’s release “a historic moment in the church.” Addressing a question posed by Francis in Laudato Si’ -- “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” --the missionary group replied, “It is up to us.”  

“We see the great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge before us and we are inspired by his invitation ‘to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home,’” they said.

Referencing the “window to the modern world” opened by the Second Vatican Council, the Columbans said the encyclical opens a window to the “splendid universal communion” of humans and creation.

Columban Superior General Fr. Kevin O’Neill said that Francis has invited Christians “to an ongoing ecological conversion.” Columban Fr. Sean McDonagh, an early advisor to the encyclical, added that the text serves as “an important step” for the church in understanding the human relationship with Creator and creation.

“We must continually learn from science, evolve our theology, and humbly situate ourselves in the wider creation story that began with the initial flaring forth 13.7 billion years ago to the world in which we live now and into the future. We must be open to encounter creation and learn from it,” he said.  

--- Brian Roewe
​posted at 4:44 p.m., cst


Coal industry fired up over eco-encyclical

Count the coal industry among groups weighing in on Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical.

A global industry group representing some of the largest coal producers in the world said Thursday that through Laudato Si’, the pope has highlighted the “huge challenge” of reducing carbon emissions and the role coal has to play in it.

“If we are to significantly cut CO2 emissions, it is essential that we recognise the vital role of coal in many countries and look at ways to reduce emissions from coal use,” said Benjamin Sporton, chief executive of the World Coal Association, in a press release.

Sporton advocated clean coal and more efficient coal-fired power plants as important elements in addressing carbon emissions and energy needs. He also said there is a need to treat climate change and development objectives as “integrated priorities.”

The coal association pointed to an International Energy Agency projection that global electricity from coal is projected by 33 percent by 2040, fueled in part by demand in Southeast Asia. Sporton said the reason for the growth is “there are very real energy needs that need to be met,” pointing to the 1.3 billion people living in energy poverty.

The theme of energy poverty appeared elsewhere, as well. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Thursday that a lobbyist for Arch Coal, one of the companies represented by WCA, emailed members of Congress saying the encyclical “does not apperar (sic) to address the tragedy of global energy poverty.”

In its 2014 World Energy Outlook, IEA projected world electricity demands to increase by nearly 80 percent in the period 2012-2040. It also estimated that renewables would surpass coal by 2035 as the top source of total power generation. It projected electricity from coal in the U.S. would drop by a third by 2040. In addition, a study published in the January edition of the scientific journal Nature found that in order to meet the target of keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsisus, more than 80 percent of the world's coal reserves must remain in the ground. 

The U.S. bishops’ conference has supported EPA policies aimed at significant reductions in carbon emissions from coal plants. The Clean Power Plan, the final rule expected to be announced this summer, would cut emissions from coal-fired power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

In discussing climate change in Laudato Si’, Francis said, “The problem is is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system.” He also mentioned deforestation for agricultural purposes as another human factor contributing in recent decades to the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The pope later said, “There is an urgent need to de­velop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly pol­luting gases can be drastically reduced, for exam­ple, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.

“Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy. There is still a need to develop adequate storage technologies. Some countries have made consid­erable progress, although it is far from constitut­ing a significant proportion. Investments have also been made in means of production and transportation which consume less energy and require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods of construction and renovating buildings which improve their energy efficiency. But these good practices are still far from widespread,” he said.

In Chapter 5, where he discussed approaches and actions to address environmental degradation, Francis again stated, “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels -- especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas -- needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”

He added: “Un­til greater progress is made in developing widely accessible sources of renewable energy, it is le­gitimate to choose the lesser of two evils or to find short-term solutions. But the international community has still not reached adequate agree­ments about the responsibility for paying the costs of this energy transition.”

--- Brian Roewe
posted at 3:27 p.m., cst


Obama looks forward to discussing encyclical issues in September

U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment and looks forward to discussing them during his White House visit later this year. 

The president made the comments in a statement released Thursday. It read: 

"I welcome His Holiness Pope Francis's encyclical, and deeply admire the Pope's decision to make the case - clearly, powerfully, and with the full moral authority of his position - for action on global climate change. 

"As Pope Francis so eloquently stated this morning, we have a profound responsibility to protect our children, and our children's children, from the damaging impacts of climate change. I believe the United States must be a leader in this effort, which is why I am committed to taking bold actions at home and abroad to cut carbon pollution, to increase clean energy and energy efficiency, to build resilience in vulnerable communities, and to encourage responsible stewardship of our natural resources. We must also protect the world's poor, who have done the least to contribute to this looming crisis and stand to lose the most if we fail to avert it.

"I look forward to discussing these issues with Pope Francis when he visits the White House in September. And as we prepare for global climate negotiations in Paris this December, it is my hope that all world leaders--and all God's children--will reflect on Pope Francis's call to come together to care for our common home."

--- Brian Roewe
posted at 3:07 p.m., cst


Austen Ivereigh​: Encyclical reflects an 'idea very dear' to pope

In a Thursday media teleconference, several prominent Catholic analysts, scholars and commentators discussed the implications of Francis’ Laudato Si’, as well as what makes this document different from previous encyclicals.

The call, hosted by Faith in Public Life, included Austen Ivereigh, author of Francis’ biography The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope. Ivereigh said this encyclical has been on Francis’ mind since the very beginning of his papacy -- a document two years in the making. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was moved by Brazilian bishops in 2007 who spoke of the disappearing Amazon rainforests, and he was heavily involved in a case of paper mills contaminating the River Plate in Buenos Aires.

The purpose of this encyclical, Ivereigh noted, “is not so much to add to the sum of the knowledge, but rather, to provoke action. It starts out by saying we know all this is happening. The church has been talking about it for a long time, politicians have been talking about it for a long time, yet we do nothing.”

“At the heart of the document is an idea very dear to him,” he added. “It’s his own analysis of what has gone wrong with modernity,” such as the technocratic mentality, which suggests “we can manipulate reality, we can exploit the world; it’s a manic individualism which comes from having lost our connection with God, with each other and with the Earth.”

That mentality is arguably one that is deeply embedded in the U.S., which Christiana Peppard -- a professor of theology at Fordham University and author of Just Water: Theology, Ethics and the Global Water Crisis -- said requires “super-developed nations” to take responsibility for much of the earth’s damage, caused by our “obsession with economic growth and profit to the exclusion of environmental and social protection.”

In the encyclical, she noted, Francis very clearly says that the developed nations have an ecological and social debt to the nations whose natural resources have been exploited.

“The U.S., I think is fair to say, has a lot of responsibility to claim because we have benefited profoundly from the modern industrial paradigm,” she said.

One Catholic university in the U.S. divested coal and fossil fuel from its investment pool in June 2014. Daniel Curran, president of the University of Dayton, said that as one of the first Catholic colleges in the country to do so, they felt alone and challenged at the time of this new investment strategy.

Now, he said he thinks the encyclical will be a “wonderful instrument to push these discussions forward” relative to the environment and investments.

Environmental solutions, however, may differ geographically. Peppard noted that the number of bishops’ conferences cited throughout the document’s footnotes -- including reports from Brazil, Philippines, and Dominican Republic -- is relatively new for papal encyclicals.

“This is very consistent with Francis’ methodology of letting Catholics around the world speak their truths in their particular cultural, geographic and environmental context,” she said, adding that this is an example of his humility and call for participation of people around the world.

“While there may be universal trends and planetary realities needing attention, it is also the case that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, that it takes participation from all of us.”

Also commenting on the encyclical in the conference were Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby; Rev. Mitchell Hescox, president and CEO of Evangelical Environmental Network; Vincent Miller, Gudorf chair in Catholic theology and Culture at the University of Dayton; and Patrick Carolan, executive director of Franciscan Action Network.

--- Soli Salgado
​posted at 3:03 p.m., cst


Academics: Blocking religion from political talk is excluding it from conversations on our common life

Academics from a number of fields weighed in on Francis’ encyclical, agreeing that the political and anthropological implications within the text are inherent to the discussion.

For more than a century, Americans -- including Catholics -- have reacted to church teaching by arguing that the pope and bishops should stay out of politics and limit themselves to talking about religion, said Una Cadegan, an associate professor at the University of Dayton, in Ohio, who specializes in 20th-century Catholic intellectual and literary culture.

“But whether we're talking about a living wage, or social justice, or nuclear proliferation or the fate of the planet, we're talking about our common life, which is just another word for politics,” she said. “And if we're Christians, at the heart of that common life is love.”

Marian Diaz, an assistant professor of pastoral studies at Loyola University Chicago, agreed that discussing environmental justice requires tackling social, cultural, anthropological and economic justice.

“Supporting an integral ecology in our common home requires integral justice,” she said.

We must also redefine success and progress, she added, from mere economic development to all “creative, constructive, and communal actions” taken toward environmental and social healing.

John Sniegocki, associate professor of theology and environmental sciences at Xavier University, said that taking action requires a fundamental transformation of the cultural, economic and political systems that are “destroying God’s good creation and doing grave harm to the poor.”

“We should take bold action to bring about these structural reforms and to change our own lifestyles as well. … Working together to bring about such changes is an essential part of the Christian faith," he said. 

Sniegocki added that while the encyclical offers a "strong affirmation of the intrinsic value of all creatures in the eyes of God " -- the clearest such statement he's seen in papal statements -- it missed out on exploring the implications of such affirmations, such as those related to dietary choices, and specifically, meat consumption. 

"The encyclical fails to point out that the global livestock industry is among the greatest causes of environmental destruction, including one the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions," he said, though he also acknowledged that Francis' statements would make it easier for people to address the issue within the framework of Catholic social teaching. 

The promise of heaven shouldn’t distract us from appreciating the gifts we currently have, said Nancy Rourke, director of Catholic Studies Program at Cansius College in Buffalo, N.Y.

“We Christians do think of creation as a gift but we also think of after-life with God as a better thing, a superior gift,” she said, adding that this type of thinking makes it easy to take the earth for granted. “In truth, this gift, this creation is all we need to be happy, whole and to be in communion with God.”

While most academics expressed enthusiasm for the range of issues the encyclical addresses regarding environmental action, Kevin Ahern -- a theological ethicist and assistant professor at Manhattan College in Riverdale, N.Y. -- said he noticed three things missing from the text.

He noted there was no mention of social or structural sin, which surprised him “given [Francis’] analysis of the root causes.” And while he said there are rumors that the next encyclical will be on disarmament, he said there should have been more mention about the effect of war on the environment and the poor. Lastly, Ahern thought the text lacked a strong call to action for parishes, schools, and church institutions.

“I can see a pastor, university president, or hospital administrator looking at this and saying, ‘So what?’” Ahern said, adding that the challenge is to better articulate how institutions can be instruments of God in protecting our planet.

--- Soli Salgado, 
posted at 12:02 p.m., cst


Without religion, no solution to environmental problems, rabbi says

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL --- The director of an Israel-based interfaith center on sustainability said that without a role for religion, solutions to environmental problems won’t be found.

Rabbi Yonatan Neril is the director of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development. He told NCR that world religions have a responsibility to take a leadership role on environmental issues because environmental issues are more than environmental crises -- they’re religious, moral and social crises, as well.

“[Spiritual problems] are manifesting as environmental problems, but it’s also causing social problems like divorce and violence, and that’s why religion needs to be involved. Religion is the largest organization in the world. If it’s not part of the solution, there’s not going to be a solution. That’s why your priest should be talking about it,” he said.

Later this month, Neril will attend an interfaith ecology conference in Rome organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. And next week, the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development will release a study that polled 231 religious learning institutions (seminaries and universities) from a variety of different religions and that found that only a quarter (64 institutions) offered courses on ecology.

“Part of the way we think of moving the needle is educating the next generation of clergy, so they will embody an ecological lifestyle,” he said.

On Pope Francis’ encyclical, Neril said the pope is saying that the belief that Judeo-Christian tradition “gave us a cart blanc to run roughshod over the Earth” is a misunderstanding of the theology.

The rabbi said that in Genesis 2:15, God gives the command to serve and conserve the garden of Eden. That command, he said, comes as a balance to the command in the first chapter of Genesis that relates to dominion.*

Asked about a part of the encyclical he found challenging, Neril raised the issue of birth control as “the elephant in the room,” saying Laudato Si’ continues Catholic teaching against contraception.

“I think it’s a question that religious communities, not just Catholics, but all people of faith who have much higher birthrates like Muslims, Hindus, and Orthodox Jews need to ask. What is the meaning of the verse in Genesis, to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and conquer it?

“What does it mean to fill the earth? What about 7.2 billion people? Is that full? Pope Francis mentioned that demographic growth is consistent with integral ecology. But at what birthrate? Does God want 8 billion people? 10 billion? What about 20 billion? Or 100 billion? What is the vision for living on this planet? Should all of the earth be like Shanghai or Mexico City?” Neril said.

--- Melanie Lidman
​posted at 11:36 a.m., cst
*This post was updated to clarify Rabbi Yonatan Neril's explanation of the Genesis texts. 


‘Laudato Si’’ a call to all people, especially the young, Ignatian leader says

Three themes in the pope’s encyclical stood out in particular for the head of the U.S.-based Ignatian Solidarity Network.

Christopher Kerr, executive director of the social justice group that works with Jesuit universities high schools and parishes, said the first theme that jumped out was how the encyclical’s subtitle -- "on Care for Our Common Home” -- was articulated throughout the document.

“Francis uses phrases like ‘family together,’ ‘shared inheritance,’ ‘relationship of mutuality,’ and ‘global problem with intertwined reality,’ to relate this idea and also makes special note that the Laudato Si’ is a call to all people, not just Catholics,” he said.

Kerr also detected some messages he saw as intentional for young people, who the network works with closely through its college and high school programs.

“[Francis] emphasizes a respect for ‘diversity of culture,’ a concept that young people see as the new-normal in their culture today,” Kerr said. “He also offers some challenging messages to this demographic: challenging the role of technology in life, critiquing individualism, and acknowledging that the choices of today will impact future generations.”

He added that “the opportunity to be a megaphone for Francis’ invitation and challenge” is exciting for young Catholics.

A third theme was the number of practical examples the pope offered as ways individuals and institutions can respond to what he described in Laudato Si’ as “urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution.” The pope listed recycling, re-emphasizing prayer at mealtimes and at one point mentioned decreasing the use of air conditioning.

The theme of solidarity resonated most with Kerr, who said he would direct people to particularly reflect on the end of chapter 4, where Francis offers a “summons to solidarity” to respond to environmental needs.

That call will require deep reflection in the U.S., he said, of the choices made at all levels: from individuals, to local and state institutions, to the national government. The Ignatian Solidarity Network devoted much of the last year to legislative advocacy, in standards for fossil fuel emissions proposed by the U.S. Environmental Agency.

“Our federal government in particular needs to listen to this call,” he said, adding he hoped the 50-plus Catholic members of Congress educated in Jesuit schools would “read the document with an open heart.”  

Kerr said he hoped those most vulnerable to climate change have a chance to hear the pope’s message in the encyclical.

“Francis clearly recognizes ‘the cry of the poor.’ We can only hope that his illumination of this cry and that of the Earth is loud enough to inspire our global community to act with Godspeed,” Kerr said.

--- Brian Roewe
​posted at 11:14 a.m., cst


Global Catholic climate group thanks pope for highlighting urgency for climate action

A global Catholic climate network thanked Pope Francis for Laudato Si’ and his call for all people to join in the shared responsibility of caring for creation and “safeguarding our common home.”

“We are grateful that the leadership of Pope Francis in the issuance of this encyclical has highlighted the urgency to act on climate change, the Global Catholic Climate Movement said in a press statement, before referencing a graph from the encyclical that reads, “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning.”

The group formed in January ahead of the pope’s trip to the Philippines, an island country viewed as extremely vulnerable to climate change. In mid-May, the pope endorsed, through an aide signing on his behalf, the group’s petition that calls for drastic cuts in carbon emissions in an effort to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, and to aid the poor in adapting to the impacts of climate change.

The Catholic climate movement said it supported Francis’ description of the climate as a common good, as well as his call for dialogue and a new global solidarity. On the issue of clean energy, it said the technology is available to ensure such development worldwide.

“We must all prayerfully reflect, with the encyclical, on how we may best put our shoulders to the task of moving our economies and institutions to gear up for a renewable energy future,” the movement said.

--- Brian Roewe
posted at 10:09 a.m., cst

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