The following comes from a June 18 story on

When Bishop Stephen Blaire came to Stockton in 1999, the region’s highest-ranking Catholic soon realized that dangerous levels of air pollution were contributing to high asthma rates here.

The Stockton diocese later launched a program seeking relief specifically for those who suffer the most from environmental problems. Nine years later that program is believed to still be the only one of its kind.

So it was no surprise on Thursday that Blaire praised the much-publicized release of Pope Francis’ new missive on climate change, the highest-level document that the Catholic church has ever published about the environment.

Local Catholics, after all, have been working on this issue for almost a decade.

“The future of our world is at stake,” Blaire said Thursday. “When you see the environmental degradation that has taken place in so many areas, you realize that we all have to work together to save our world, for now and for the future.”

…. An official communiqué from the pope is likely to have some influence on conservative Catholics, said environmental advocate Susan Mora Loyko, a Catholic who attends Church of the Presentation in Stockton.

“I think he’s going to bring some folks into the fold,” she said. “This is not just a political issue anymore. This is a matter of faith.”

The Stockton diocese’s Environmental Justice Program began in 2006, about the same time that California approved its first mandate to lower the carbon emissions that most scientists say are responsible for climate change. Recently, the program has advocated for sustainable development in Stockton and for a fair share of state funds for local projects to reduce emissions and improve quality of life.

The organization’s longtime leader, Betsy Reifsnider, retired in late 2013 and was replaced by Katelyn Roedner Sutter, who echoed the bishop’s praise for the pope’s remarks on Thursday, and predicted that other dioceses from across the country will now attempt to replicate Stockton’s program.

Blaire has been “very, very supportive” on environmental issues for a long time, Mora Loyko said.

“I don’t know who’s following in whose footsteps — Bishop Blaire following Pope Francis, or the other way around,” she said.