Frank Talk: Pope Francis Calls for “Courageous Actions” on Poverty, Environment

Pope Francis Addresses the Congress of the United States

This post is part of the “Prelude to Paris” series highlighting updates and analysis on international climate negotiations in the lead up to the United Nations climate change conference – the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) — to be held in Paris this December. Other posts in the series are available here. 

Pope Francis’ visit to the United States has drawn the attention of millions of people from around the globe. His popularity here in the U.S. is astronomical with a favorability rating of 90% of all American Catholics, and 70% of all Americans. Upon his arrival, he gave an address at the White House and spoke about immigration, religious liberty and climate change. His address to the Congress this morning was the first time a pope has ever done so.

In his address to Congress, Pope Francis focused on four Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. When speaking about Dorothy Day, the leader of the Catholic worker movement, Pope Francis spoke about care for those in poverty and protection of nature. He directly referenced his recent encyclical about the environment, Laudato Si. He reminded Congress that the defense of the common good is a chief aim of all politics and that sacrifice is necessary to serve the common good. He said that “The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology, and the strength of enterprise are essential elements to an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive, and sustainable.”

As with his address to Congress, and mentioning four Americans (including two non-Catholics), Pope Francis called for a dialogue that includes everyone, “since the environmental challenge we are undergoing and its human roots concern and affect us all.” Instead of focusing only on the problems of environmental degradation, Pope Francis offered hope, saying “I’m convinced that we can make a difference, I’m sure. I have no doubt that the US and this congress have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions.”

Noticeably absent from his address to Congress, Pope Francis did not mention the term “climate change” or “global warming.” But his reference to Laudato Si, which heavily speaks about environmental degradation including climate change, is a nod towards the issue. And in his address at the White House, he directly mentioned the issue.

The Vatican has been a leader in supporting action on climate change. In 2010, Vatican City had more solar power capacity installed, per capita, than anywhere in the world. Under Pope Benedict XVI, Vatican City became the first carbon-neutral country in the world. He even looked into a hybrid-electric Popemobile. Rightfully so, Pope Benedict XVI was called the “Green Pope”. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace wrote on the nexus between poverty, energy and climate change justice and stated that “The protection of creation is a moral duty for all.” The Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a scientific advisory body appointed by the Pope, has stated that “The continued extraction of coal, oil and gas following the “business-as-usual mode” will soon create grave existential risks for the poorest three billion, and for generations yet unborn.” Pope Francis went a step further with the publication of his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si. Pope Francis said that fossil fuels including “coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay,” are specifically identified as forms of tyranny over creation. Indeed, many churches all across the United States have installed wind turbines and solar panels in order to care for creation.

Pope Francis will continue his visit to the United States with a visit to New York City to address the United Nations and then on to Philadelphia. The full text of his address to Congress is available here.

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