Pope Francis Presses U.S. Leaders to Act on the Environment

Pope Francis addresses Congress / ABC News

In June, Pope Francis released Care for Our Common Home, an encyclical designed to build the moral case for fighting climate change, protecting the environment, and moving towards a path of sustainable development. In his first two days in the U.S., Pope Francis gave a speech at the White House, and then, this morning in front of a joint session of Congress.

In a speech at the White House, Pope Francis reiterated the central arguments of his encyclical — that climate change and environmental degradation are crises that must be addressed today if we are going to create a more equitable world. To President Obama, he said:

“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.”

To Congress, Pope Francis reiterated some of these points:

“A central theme of the encyclical I wrote is the need for a dialogue about our common home. We need a conversation that includes everyone, since the environmental challenge — and its human roots — affect us all. Courageous and responsible efforts are needed to redirect our steps. We can address the most serious effects of environmental degradation by human activity. We can make a difference, I’m sure.”

But he also increased pressure on lawmakers to act on climate change, saying: “I have no doubt this Congress has an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous action.” He added that “the tireless pursuit of the common good is the chief aim of politics. Political society endures when it meets common needs.”

He believes American technology will also play a critical role in restoring the planet to health. “We have the freedom to direct technology. We can develop intelligent ways to limit our power. Technology can put be into service to achieve human progress. America’s universities and research institutions can make vital contributions in the years ahead.”

To perhaps counter the American critics who have called him a Marxist, Francis gave a blessing of sorts to business, if it’s working towards the common good as well. “The path of great power is to create wealth. The right use of natural resources, appropriate use of technology, harnessing spirit of enterprise. This leads to an economy that is modern, inclusive, and sustainable. Business is a noble vocation directed at producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity. It creates jobs, which is an essential part of its service to the common good.”

In his speech, Pope Francis also called for greater assistance with the migrant crisis in Europe, banning the death penalty worldwide, combating religious extremism in all forms, and ending armed conflict.

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