Media Advisory: Wake Forest offers experts to discuss Pope’s U.S. visit

Wake Forest University has several experts available who can speak to different topics related to Pope Francis’ upcoming three-day visit to the United States, Sept. 23-25.

Lucas Johnston, PhD,

Media Contact: Bonnie Davis,, 336-758-5390

Johnston, author of Religion and Sustainability: Social Movements and the Politics of the Environment and associate professor of Religion and Environmental Studies at Wake Forest University, can comment on the Pope’s upcoming visit and renewed interest in his encyclical. Johnston is also co-editor of Science and Religion: One Planet, Many Possibilities. Johnston can address the current landscape regarding religion and the environment. He is senior book reviewer for the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture and co-chair of the Religion and Ecology Group for the American Academy of Religion.

Johnston notes that while the Pope’s new encyclical on the care of creation has gotten plenty of press, many religious leaders, academics and analysts have been overly optimistic about its potential impacts, especially to the U.S. audience. While popular in his native Latin America, the Pope’s popularity in the U.S. declined following the release of the encyclical. Although most of the work on the world religions and ecology has focused on “advancing eco-groovy anecdotes,” their convictions are often marginalized within their own traditions, Johnston explains.

“In general, the most important and interesting shifts in social values related to the environment are occurring at the cultural margins – outside the bounds of most institutionalized religions,” Johnston says. “Much of the lay population of the world’s largest religious traditions remain resistant to such change, and there are many cases in which religious values are trumped by other, often economic, values.”


Justin Catanoso, M.A.,

Phone: 336-758-3914


Secondary email: Bonnie Davis,

Justin Catanoso, director of Wake Forest University’s journalism program and a journalist with 30 years of experience, has extensive expertise in the Vatican, the papacy and the impact of climate change in Pope Francis’ home region of South America.

Sponsored by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington, D.C., Catanoso covered the June 18 release of the papal encyclical at the Vatican. He later spent three weeks in Peru in July and August gauging the potential impact of the encyclical in a Catholic country where the pope enjoys soaring popularity (above 80 percent) and where environmental conflicts are widespread. Peru, which last December hosted 196 countries for the 20th UN climate summit, is the world’s treasure chest with a mining industry rich in gold, silver, cooper and zinc and the Amazon jungle’s biodiversity. Both assets are in perpetual conflict, making Peru the ideal setting to assess the influence of the encyclical.

Catanoso’s reporting has ranged from interviewing poor miners in the Andes who love the pope but want nothing to do with this environmental message that might cost them their jobs to influential leaders in government and business, giving him unique insight into the challenge a popular pope like Francis will have in pushing his climate change agenda internationally.

“It’s not just conservatives and GOP presidential candidates lining up against him, but the wealthy and poor alike in a country where he is beloved,” Catanoso said.

Catanoso is also the author of My Cousin the Saint, A Search for Faith, Family and Miracles (2008/HarperCollins), which included extensive research into the papacy and interviews at the Vatican.


Elizabeth O’Donnell Gandolfo, Ph.D

Media Contact: Mark Batten,, 336-758-3959

Gandolfo can discuss the appeal of Pope Francis as a person, even to the most disaffected Catholics and to non-Catholics; the dissatisfaction of many women with the Catholic Church, and the failure of the Pope to move forward in this arena thus far; the impact that the Pope, his encyclical, and his visit could have on pro-life Catholic voters; and the continuity between the Pope and his predecessors on issues of social concern like poverty and economics, social justice, war and peace, and on issues of sexuality.

“This landmark papal visit represents a golden opportunity for Pope Francis to bring together that which our polarized political context has torn asunder: ecological well-being and human progress, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, the U.S. and Cuba, capitalism and socialism, religion and politics,” Gandolpho said. “With his all-inclusive love for human beings and the planet, Francis defies the labels and stereotypes that too often prevent Catholic citizens from considering the full range of issues that relate to the practice of their faith in the social and political realms.”

Gandolfo is a theologian whose constructive theological work is deeply influenced by the rich heritage of Catholic social teaching, Catholic contemplative spirituality, and Latin American liberation theology. She teaches Christian theology and Latin American liberation theologies at Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity, and her current research projects focus on the continuing relevance of the Salvadoran ecclesial base communities and the place of motherhood in Catholic theology.

Editor’s Note: The School of Divinity has also convened an Oct. 6 panel featuring a theologian, a biologist and a journalist to discuss the impact of the Pope’s encyclical. More information is available here.

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Categories: Media Advisory