Pope Francis yesterday called for further action on climate change, saying it was “a critical moment of history”, on the first day of his visit to the US.
According to the BBC, he addressed a crowd of more than 11,000 people on the White House South Lawn, noting that the problem could “no longer be left to a future generation”.
President Barack Obama said the Pope reminded people “that we have a sacred obligation to protect our planet”.
Following the speech, the two leaders met behind closed doors in the Oval Office, before the Pope embarked on a parade around the White House grounds in a specially outfitted jeep known as the “Popemobile”.
He departed the White House for St Matthew’s Cathedral, a few blocks up the road, where he delivered an address to US bishops.
Earlier in the morning, speaking in English – one of the few times the Argentine pontiff is expected to do so during the week’s many events – Pope Francis praised President Obama for recent proposals aimed at tackling air pollution.
Time remains to make the changes required, the Pope said, in a speech that also called for protecting religious liberty and stamping out discrimination.
The BBC’s Barbara Plett Usher, reported that President Obama couldn’t have hoped for a clearer endorsement of his climate agenda from such an immense source of moral authority.
Pope Francis made a strong pitch for battling climate change, including specific reference to Mr. Obama’s clean air initiative. His position tracks so closely to the president’s it has some conservatives grumbling.
But they should have been pleased by his robust defence of religious freedoms – interpreted by US bishops as the right to follow their convictions in the face of court rulings on same sex marriage and the contraceptive mandate in Mr Obama’s health care law.
He says he’s just preaching Catholic social doctrine, but clearly with his own emphasis and style – in an everyday act of resistance to the pomp and circumstance of high office he drove up to the White House in a humble Fiat.
The environmental issue is a divisive one in US politics, with one Republican congressman boycotting the Pope’s speech to Congress on Thursday because of the pontiff’s stance.
All the leading Republican presidential candidates oppose action to tackle climate change because they say it will hurt the economy.