Pope Francis has come to and gone from America. We saw him embrace the homeless, the refugee, the immigrant, the child with disabilities. We saw him call our elected leaders to live up to our own American traditions as exemplified by Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

We saw him urge the strengthening of families so that children can thrive. We saw him talking to global leaders about their responsibility to bring peace — and not more arms — to war zones.

In almost every setting, Pope Francis talked about the importance of caring for our natural environment, and ensuring that poor people and future generations can enjoy and use it as they require.

It seemed, while he was here, that we Americans couldn’t get enough of Pope Francis. For those who still feel a desire to learn more, Saint Michael Parish is sponsoring study groups to read and reflect upon Laudato Si, the Pope’s encyclical letter, also titled in English “On Care for Our Common Home.” The groups will meet at our parish facilities in Augusta, Winthrop, Hallowell, Gardiner and Whitefield. The sessions will extend for six weeks.

Ultimately, the pope’s message is not about reading. It is about acting. It is about seeing a poor person and reaching out a hand. It is about seeing an immigrant and welcoming them to our community. It is about seeing pollution and stopping it. It is about reducing the amount of things in our lives, and sharing more of what we have with those less fortunate. But reading and discussing his words can help us discover the actions we can take in our lives.

Sometimes, we in America see environmental protection as a different issue from social justice. This is not the way the pope sees it. Last summer, I spent a few weeks in rural villages in Bolivia, which shares the continent that has helped shape the pope’s perspective.

I worked with poor rural peasants who couldn’t get clean water, whose streets and villages were covered with garbage, whose forests were being clear cut. For these people, and for this pope, care for the environment is a social justice issue. It is the poor who suffer the most from environmental degradation. Caring for our Earth, and caring for those in need, are mutually reinforcing obligations.

The encyclical Laudato Si lays these issues out with simplicity and clarity. The study groups that we have set up will be led by local parishioners as well as myself. They will meet six times for an hour and 15 minutes, starting the week of Oct. 11, at St. Joseph Hall in Gardiner, Sacred Heart Hall in Hallowell, St. Francis Hall in Winthrop, St. Michael School and the Pastoral Center in Augusta, and St. Denis Hall in Whitefield.

Many of our parishioners plan to participate. But because Pope Francis is a global leader, and someone who speaks to all people of good will, we wish to invite all people of the Kennebec Valley — Jewish, Muslim, Christian, agnostic or atheist — to participate in a study group if they are interested. To enroll in a group, just call our Pastoral Center at 623-8823 during normal weekday hours to find a group that is convenient in terms of time and location.

Whether or not people can participate in a study group, they can benefit from reading the encyclical. It is available in book form and online at w2.vatican.va, click on Encyclicals.

At a time when our nation and state suffer from a sense of division and mistrust, Pope Francis brings hope. Together, let’s build on this foundation.

Father Frank Morin is pastor of Saint Michael Parish, Augusta.

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