Pope Francis stirs excitement in Washington, calls for climate action

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Pope Francis arrives in the popemobile at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, for the Canonization Mass for Junipero Serra. (Tony Gentile/Pool Photo via AP)
Pope Francis arrives in the popemobile at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, for the Canonization Mass for Junipero Serra. (Tony Gentile/Pool Photo via AP)

Cheered by jubilant crowds across the nation’s capital, Pope Francis forged common cause Wednesday with President Barack Obama on climate change, immigration and inequality, as the popular pontiff signaled he would not sidestep issues that have deeply divided Americans.

On his first full day in the United States, the pope also reached out to America’s 450 bishops, many of whom have struggled to come to terms with his new social justice-minded direction for the Catholic Church. He gently prodded the bishops to forgo “harsh and divisive language,” while commending their “courage” in the face of the church’s sexual abuse scandal — rhetoric that angered victims he may meet with later in his trip.

Late in the day, Francis — the first pope from the Americas — canonized Junipero Serra, the famous 18th century Spanish friar who brought the Catholic faith to California.

The 78-year-old pontiff’s whirlwind day in Washington enlivened the often stoic, politically polarized city. Excited crowds lined streets near the White House to catch a glimpse of the smiling and waving Francis as he passed by in his open-air “popemobile.” He seemed to draw energy from the cheering spectators, particularly the children his security detail brought to him for a papal kiss and blessing.

In keeping with his reputation as the “people’s pope,” Francis kept Obama and other dignitaries at the White House waiting so he could spend time greeting schoolchildren gathered outside the Vatican’s diplomatic mission where he spent the night.

With flags snapping, color guard at attention and a military band playing, Francis stepped from his modest Fiat onto the South Lawn on a crisp fall morning that felt as optimistic as his own persona. Pope and president stood on a red-carpeted platform bedecked with red, white and blue bunting for the national anthems of the Holy See and the United States.

The pope’s remarks were brief, yet pointed.

While President Obama was escorting Pope Francis  cameras captured him with Horns
While President Obama was escorting Pope Francis cameras captured him with Horns

Speaking in soft, halting English, Francis said that as the son of an immigrant family, he was “happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.” The Argentine pope was born to Italian parents who left their home country before he was born, and he has been a forceful advocate for humane treatment of migrants.

Francis was enthusiastic in his embrace of Obama’s climate change agenda, specifically praising the president for taking steps to reduce air pollution. In a firm message to those who doubt the science of climate change, he said the warming planet “demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition” of the world that will be left to today’s children.

“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,” said Francis, who has been pressing his environmental message ahead of climate change talks in Paris later this year.

The pope’s messages were warmly welcomed by Obama, who has prodded his Republican rivals for action on immigration and climate change with limited success. In his own remarks heralding the pope’s arrival at the White House, Obama thanked Francis for reminding the world of the “sacred obligation to protect our planet – God’s magnificent gift to us.”

The pope and president were also aligned in their call for addressing global poverty and inequality, with Obama praising Francis’ call to put “the least of these at the center of our concern.”

The pope had something for conservatives, too, with a clear call to protect religious liberties — “one of America’s most precious possessions.”

“All are called to be vigilant,’ he said, “to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”

U.S. bishops and conservatives who have objected to the Obama administration’s health care mandate and the recent Supreme Court legalization of same-sex marriage have made religious freedom a rallying cry, with a largely domestic focus.

After their opening remarks on the lawn, Obama and Francis met one-on-one for 40 minutes in the Oval Office, joined only by an interpreter. White House aides said the discussion was private, and declined to say whether the leaders addressed subjects on which they sharply differ, including abortion and gay marriage.

While the pope’s visit was analyzed for political implications in a city already consumed by next year’s U.S. presidential election, for Catholics and many other Americans Francis’ six-day, three-city trip to the U.S. is an opportunity to connect with a humble church leader who has rejuvenated many of the country’s believers.

“He’s made the church more of an obtainable thing,” said Nigel Stacy, a law student who arrived at the White House in the middle of the night to get a good place to stand for the arrival ceremony. “It’s more relatable. You see what he does and you can see yourself emulating that.”

Washington resident Theresa Wellman, who brought her mother and five children to watch the pope’s parade through the streets of the nation’s capital, called Francis “a breath of fresh air.”

“He’s changed the tone into a loving, merciful church to serve the poor,” Wellman said.

The church’s leadership in the U.S. has sometimes been more skeptical of the pope, wary of the divide between his focus on a merciful church and the culture wars that America’s bishops have been involved in over abortion and gay rights.

In his remarks to U.S. bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Francis emphasized one of the defining messages of his papacy, to focus less on defending church teaching and more on compassion. The pope told the American church leaders that “harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor” and he encouraged them to speak with anyone, no matter their views.

In his first comments in the U.S. on the clergy sex abuse scandal that erupted in 2002, the pope praised the bishops for a “generous commitment to bring healing to victims” and for acting “without fear of self-criticism.”

An organization for abuse victims quickly disagreed.

“Almost without exception, they have shown cowardice and callousness and continue to do so now,” said Barbara Dorris, president of SNAP, or Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Under public pressure, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pledged to oust any guilty clergy from church work and enact safeguards for children. However, some victims say the bishops still haven’t fully accounted for sheltering abusers. This year, three bishops resigned over their failures to protect children.

Later Wednesday, Francis celebrated a Mass of Canonization, the first ever on U.S. soil, for Junipero Serra in Spanish. Several thousand of the 25,000 tickets to the event were set aside for Spanish-speaking people, many from California. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception erected a temporary sanctuary outdoors for the Mass, which lasted into the evening.

On Thursday, Francis planned to deliver the first papal address ever to Congress, speaking to Republican-majority legislators deeply at odds with Obama on many of the same issues the leaders addressed at the White House.

By JULIE PACE and NICOLE WINFIELD

Associated Press/ My way

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3 responses to “Pope Francis stirs excitement in Washington, calls for climate action”

  1. nagy_michael2 Avatar
    nagy_michael2

    Well as much as i have high regards for this Pope i was hoping for him to press more issues that Climate Change. we have ISIS and Assad and millions of refugees across the Globe. He should have specifically asked the United Nations to find a solution for these crisis. Allocate resources and help these families in time of need. He should have made more Urgent than the freaking climate change. what do people care if the climate is clean and they are dying of hunger and need immediate medical help. It’s all Obama plans and I bet he already arranged with the Pope. He is coming here as Democratic congressman. I am rather disappointed in his message that didn’t cover the issue of the wars in Middle East and finding Urgent and necessary means to stop and relieve the people from their sufferings. I am not saying he should have solutions for these crisis but these are immediate crisis that need to be addressed instead of Climate Change. Had the west and the U.S forcefully addressed the issues in the middle east with some arab moderates they would not to have face massive refugees invasions. The arabs are no help and neither is Iran who instigates war instead of peace. so jerks in Tehran know nothing about God but war. as if God told to divide and conquer. If Assad had heed his people warnings and gave them economic justice he would have to face reality check now. Had he not terrorize Lebanon for 30 years instead of helping building lebanon cohesiveness he wanted to divide and conquer. same with Hezbollah now divide and conquer Christians and then tell them if it would not be for us you would not be alive. well you are no different then modern day ISIS. you are all the same love war and hate peace.

  2. 5thDrawer Avatar

    One cannot say ‘Freedom of Religion’, and then not ‘Freedom of Family Planning’ and ‘Freedom of Association’. WHICH IS WHY THE LAW IS SECULAR.
    And any ‘religionist’ who is against ‘Health Care’, is not religious.

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