Pope Francis gets political in remarks at White House

Pope Francis waded into politics during brief remarks on Wednesday at the White House, touching on climate change, immigration and religious liberty before a packed South Lawn audience.

"I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution," Francis told Obama during an ornate ceremony attended by thousands.

"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, speaking slowly in English.

The pontiff called the earth "our common home" and suggested that the Obama administration's focus on climate change ahead of an international summit later this year came at a "critical moment of history.”

While White House aides suggested ahead of the pope’s appearance that he might touch on the issue of climate change, Francis addressed several other political issues as well.

"As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families," Francis said, alluding to debate over illegal immigration that has raged during the 2016 presidential race with calls for a more secure southern border with Mexico.

Francis said that while in Philadelphia later in the week he would "support the institutions of marriage and the family at this, a critical moment in the history of our civilization," adding that U.S. Catholics are committed to advocating a "truly tolerant and inclusive" society.

Francis also weighed in on the issue of religious liberty, which was invoked in the case of Kentucky clerk Kim Davis. Davis was jailed for several days earlier this month after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing religious objections following the Supreme Court's decision to legalize the practice.

"With countless other people of good will, [American Catholics] are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty," Francis said Wednesday.

"That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions," he added.

Francis said he hoped to offer "words of encouragement" to those guiding the country when he addresses a joint session of Congress on Thursday.