While there are those that may question how much influence Pope Francis will have over Congress - where 30 percent are Catholic - there is no doubt that he has been successful in raising awareness about the environmental issues facing our nation, including our moral responsibility to protect our land, water and air.
This explains why Latinos from New York to California are expressing their desire for Congress to take action on numerous environmental issues - the most immediate being the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which will vanish if Congress doesn't renew it by its Sept. 30 expiration date.
Over the last 50 years - without costing taxpayers a single dime - LWCF has pumped more than $17 billion into the protection of land in every state, contributed support to more than 41,000 state and local park projects and improved access to the outdoors for millions of people.
LWCF takes a small portion of royalties from offshore oil and gas development and invests that money in protecting America's most important lands for future generations - whether that be our iconic national parks or an urban neighborhood playground. It's a simple premise that as we extract natural resources, we should in turn protect and invest in other resources.
The Latino Conservation Alliance - a group of six national Latino organizations dedicated to representing a diverse array of Latino communities to conserve our natural heritage for future generations--released its list of the "Top Three Things We Expect to Hear from Pope Francis -- and Want Congress to Act on." It's top priority: renewing and fully funding LWCF.
"The Latino community has strong ties with our public lands. The Holy Father Pope Francis has said that God's creation is ours to protect, and we expect him to repeat this message to Congress. We agree with the Pope and believe it is our responsibility to ensure our government has mechanisms in place to guarantee the future of our natural treasures ... Congress needs to act to reauthorize and dedicate full funding for LWCF to continue the preservation of the beautiful landscapes and biodiversity of creation, for all of our children to access and enjoy."
Por La Creación Faith-based Alliance, which unites Latino faith leaders throughout the nation in order to develop stewards of God's creation by educating and engaging this generation to leave a legacy for the future, released a statement of its own. Having worked on a variety of public lands issues like the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, Browns Canyon National Monument and the recent Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness bill, as well as the individual pastors' work in their local communities, the Alliance has a vast understanding of the importance of LWCF. Yet, even with embracing the obligation to protect God's creation, they also value the practical implications.
"As a members of the Latino faith community here in America, we believe this moral responsibility extends beyond the philosophical. It demands tangible action in our homes, in our communities - and that means action from the men and women we elected to represent us in Washington. His Holiness has asked, 'what kind of world do we want to leave behind?' LWCF has been answering that question for the last 50 years, as it has been an incredible mechanism in guaranteeing that we fulfill our moral responsibility. It's time for Congress to continue this legacy and reauthorize - and fully fund - the Land and Water Conservation Fund before it expires in September."
LWCF has been instrumental in creating, protecting and providing access to public lands not just for the Latino community, but also for everyone across the nation - and at no cost to taxpayers. LWCF has also been successful at uniting diverse stakeholders throughout America that want to see the program's legacy continue for decades to come.
It's time for Congress to listen to its constituents (and the Pope) - and act.