An Unwavering Climate Message In The US From Pope Francis

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During the past week, Pope Francis has brought a consistent message about climate change to every one of the historic cities he has visited in the United States. However, he has varied his presentations about our common home thoughtfully according to the different audiences he has addressed. We’ll take a look at his climate change statements over the week and also examine how the Pope’s view of the natural world fits into his viewpoints on human life in the universe as well.

Pope Francis, Speaker Boehner, and Vice President Biden survey the crowd on Washington's Mall (
Pope Francis, Speaker Boehner, and Vice President Biden survey the crowd on Washington’s Mall (

Friendly, softspoken, smiling and taking joy with those he encountered, the Pope packed a lot into a brief visit. He landed in Washington first, met President Obama at the White House, canonized the priest who introduced Christianity in California, and addressed a joint session of Congress at the request of House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio).

Then Pope Francis proceeded to New York to present a global view of the human condition and the state of the environment at the United Nations. He saluted the United States and deplored conditions leading to worldwide terrorism as he stopped at the somber 9/11 memorial. He also overflew the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where many 20th-century immigrants first set foot on American soil.

Finally, the Catholic leader wound up in Philadelphia, birthplace of the USA and home to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The Catholic population is prominent and devout in this city, and the crowds pressed the Pope. He gave another historic speech to Americans and attended a world conference of the World Meeting of Families. His blessings included kissing a boy with cystic fibrosis, meeting with the poor and homeless, greeting those affected by the 9/11 tragedies, giving solace–“God weeps”–to sufferers of clerical sexual abuse (and presenting strong warnings about it), as well as expressing concern for the resilience and sanctity of human life.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, wearing a green tie to celebrate the Pope's message on the environment, greets His Holiness in Washington (
Speaker of the House John Boehner, wearing a green tie to celebrate the Pope’s message on the environment, greets His Holiness in Washington (

Speaker of the House John Boehner had invited the pontiff to Washington, to the dismay of many who felt this prerogative properly belonged to the President. The political speech from Pope Francis there was an intense plea for the moneyed few to respect the humble and the environment. The majority of his congressional audience would be harder to please than either of the other large groups. Some pundits believed the Pope’s attention fruitless, although almost all applauded it.

It’s a tribute to Boehner for bucking tradition and offering the invitation. Republicans in Congress have the greatest opportunity ever to betray the sentiments of American citizens, government, science, and business by looking the other way from climate change until it’s too late—if that time has not already arrived. Boehner also emphasized the intransigence of the Republican Right on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday when he trashed unrealistic “false prophets” in his party, blaming them for unrealistic political strategies and taking the government into fiscal crises over unwinnable arguments.

Pope Francis and President Obama speak at the Washington Monument (
Pope Francis and President Obama speak at the Washington Monument (

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Many Republicans like Senator Jim Imhofe (R., Oklahoma), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Kentucky), and freshman extremists object with sarcasm and negativity to the President’s Clean Power Plan to cut carbon emissions, claiming that it will damage the economy without improving the environment and displaying an alarming tendency to inspire group-think without thought or individual reasoning. Boehner’s unspoken but impending resignation must have provided some of the courage necessary for him to do this.

First speaking on Wednesday with President Obama and a large audience on the South Lawn of the White House, the Pope greeted all “as the son of an immigrant family.” In a barely concealed poke at politicians eager to minimalize the role of migrants to the US, and to isolationists in Europe as well, he said “I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.”

He spoke of the human obligation to help the poor, and then he launched into the importance of action on climate change. Addressing President Obama before a crowd well over 10,000:

“Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. 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.

When it comes to the care of our “common home,” we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about “a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change” (Laudato Si’, 13).

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.”

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