Inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical on caring for creation, and concerned by environmental threats around them, Catholic parishioners in Thailand are planting hundreds of new trees.

“Pope Francis has enlightened us and appealed to us in his encyclical ‘Laudato S√¨’ for collective action and bold cultural revolution to tackle environmental issues,” said Father Daniel Khuan Thinwan.

“As pastors it’s our responsibility to take these teachings to the peripheries so that the faithful can find their true meaning in practice,” he told CNA June 6.

The priest is from Mount Carmel Church in Paphanawan in the Diocese of Thare and Nonseng in the far northeastern region of Thailand. The parish community’s reforestation program planted 800 saplings to celebrate World Environment Day, held on June 5.

“Pope Francis has touched the key points of the environment, which has been a universal reality and especially in the local area a challenge,” Fr. Daniel said. “The question is: how to put these teachings into reality?”

The Thai priest said that environmental and climate change discussions had been mainly confined to scientists, activists, universities, and others engaged in politics and economics. Pope Francis has opened a new dimension on the issues and brought a broader perspective, engaging the question with the eyes of spirituality and faith, he added.

For the reforestation program, families helped grow plant saplings and brought them to the church. After Sunday Mass, young and old began digging and planting the saplings to help replenish the forest and bring greener plant life to the hills. The monsoon season is gradually picking up its pace, and the rains will naturally help the plants to grow.

The trees will help contain air pollution, prevent soil erosion and maintain soil fertility. They will also give new life to wild flora and shelter to animals and birds. The trees will help bring rain and maintain temperature and ground water level in the area.

Fr. Daniel said the effort is “a small step which will help to make an impact on climate change for a better world.”

“We need to tackle these issues and challenges before it too late to save our planet, our ‘common home’.”

The priest said that the parish catechesis on “Laudato Si” motivated the community. There are also environmental problems in the region, including acute water scarcity.

Thailand is suffering its worst drought in the last 20 years. The water level in the river basins, dams and reservoirs is very low, at 10 percent. This has adversely affected the farmers in many regions.

In addition to water scarcity and deforestation, the environmental issues facing the country include pollution and decline in wildlife population.

The government has adopted several measures to combat the drought-plagued areas. It has also forged a global alliance with other countries to reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption. Thailand has ranked in the top 30 carbon dioxide emitters in the world and is a significant carbon emitter in in the East Asia and Pacific region.