The Pope, The UN, And My Takeaway
by Maria Ramos, Guest Contributor, All-len-All –
Pope Francis recently concluded a trip to the United States. The Bishop of Rome made remarks throughout his journey that were in line with his views as expressed in the encyclical “Laudato Si,” published earlier this year. In short, he argued for the reality of anthropogenic climate change and called upon Americans and people around the globe to take action.
President Obama was among the well-wishers who lauded the Pope’s message on climate change after welcoming him to the White House on Wednesday. In his first speech on U.S. soil, Francis emphasized that this environmental problem cannot “be left to a future generation.” The next day, while addressing a joint session of Congress, His Holiness continued speaking on the same theme. He called upon leaders in business and government to promote sustainable practices and to put technology to good use in conserving our natural resources.
After departing Washington, D.C., the pontiff headed over to New York City, where he spoke to a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. He said that the environment had suffered from “power badly exercised” and that its rights should be actively promoted. Francis explained his belief that the earth was lovingly created by God, who permits humankind to use it, and that people ought not to “abuse it, much less to destroy it.” He blamed the degradation of our natural surroundings on a “thirst for power and material prosperity.”
Tying his climate change advocacy together with his promotion for social justice, Francis sees the same factors driving the effective exclusion of millions from the gains of modern society. Both poverty and environmental harm are accelerated by what the pope called a “culture of waste” in the developed world. Thus by acting to correct and remedy the excesses that lead to ecological ruination, we will simultaneously improve the number of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Of course, there were plenty of issues unrelated to global warming and climate change that caught the pope’s notice during his trip. He made several comments criticizing the arms trade and urging the use of diplomacy instead of war. Francis opined that the United States should welcome immigrants especially because almost all people living in this nation are descended from immigrants. Francis urged everybody to respect religious freedom as one of a number of “spiritual freedoms,” including the right to an education and civil rights, to which everyone was entitled.
During his speech to Congress, Francis made a number of pronouncements on hot topics of the day, including immigration, abortion, the death penalty, income inequality and climate change. Some of his statements received bipartisan applause, such as the characterization of America as “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Other comments elicited positive responses from only one or the other side of the aisle, such as his anti-abortion stance and his concern over the gap between rich and poor.
Amusingly, national leaders of almost every description praised the pope’s views by simply focusing on the things he said that appealed to their political persuasions. Hence, Republican Ben Carson was “delighted” by Francis’s “message of faith and love” while Democrat Nancy Pelosi honored the pope for his admonitions to care for the environment and help those who are struggling with poverty. A rare discordant note was sounded by Senator and Republican candidate for presidency Ted Cruz who disagreed with the pontiff’s stance against capital punishment. Speaker of the House John Boehner was instrumental in arranging for the pope’s visit, and he seemed overwhelmed by emotion and unable to react specifically to the contents of the pope’s speeches.
Francis was amicably received wherever he went. In addition to his high-powered appearances at the U.N. and Congress, he also participated in many events open to members of the general public. By presenting a friendly and approachable public image, Francis was able to ignite happiness and hope in many of the faithful who came into contact with him. There’s little doubt that this visit acted as a shot in the arm to U.S. Catholic congregations and priests. The Pope’s comments on climate change could possibly inspire energy providers to provide more readily available clean energy, and even further immigration reform and efforts to end poverty could be brought to the table.
As the spokesperson of more than a billion Catholics around the world and as the head of state of the Vatican, Pope Francis wields considerable powers of moral suasion. Even those who don’t count themselves as members of his church must pay serious attention to his statements. His recent visit to the United States is a powerful spur further urging church officials, private individuals and government policy makers to do something about climate change before it’s too late.