In his first public address during his visit to the United States, Pope Francis spent the majority of his time harping on one issue: Climate change.
Speaking before a massive crowd outside the White House Wednesday morning, Pope Francis began his talk by referencing his immigrant heritage, noting, “As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.” He then offered an aside praising the merits of religious liberty, asking the U.S. government to pay heed to the beliefs of American Catholics and “respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty.”
But just three paragraphs into his prepared remarks, Francis pivoted sharply to the another issue near to his heart — the environment.
“Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution,” Francis said. “Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.”
Francis twice quoted his own encyclical on the environment, a papal document released earlier this year that made headlines because of its bold call for global action on climate change.
“When it comes to the care of our ‘common home’, we are living at a critical moment of history,” he said. “We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about ‘a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.’ Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them. Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities and our societies.”
“To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it,” Francis added, quoting the famous civil rights leader’s “I Have A Dream” speech. “We know by faith that ‘the Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home’. As Christians inspired by this certainty, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.”
President Barack Obama, who spoke before Francis, praised the pontiff’s environmentalism.
“Holy Father, you remind us that we have a sacred obligation to protect our planet — God’s magnificent gift to us,” Obama said. “We support your call to all world leaders to support the communities most vulnerable to a changing climate and to come together to preserve our precious world for future generations.”
Francis’ rhetoric isn’t inspiring everyone, however. At least one Catholic Republican — Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) — is boycotting the pope’s speech to Congress on Thursday because he disagrees with the Holy Father’s stance on climate change.