Week ahead: Pope Francis brings climate message to Congress

Pope Francis has a historic and powerful soapbox from which he will speak during his visit to the United States, and he’s widely expected to use it to repeat his moral case for taking on climate change.

The pope's U.S. trip will be one of the most-watched visits for any head of state in recent memory. Francis will speak at the United Nations, celebrate mass in New York, Washington and Philadelphia, meet with President Obama, and on Thursday deliver an unprecedented speech to a joint session of Congress.

Environmentalists — especially the Catholics among them — say the Vatican’s posturing on climate change and the pope’s own words on the subject make it a topic Francis is certain to discuss during his trip.

The Vatican endorsed a United Nations climate change conference set for December, and Francis has discussed the issue with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Francis invited world mayors to Rome this summer to discuss efforts to mitigate climate change, and Vatican officials joined their counterparts in the Muslim community in calling for a worldwide effort to fight global warming.

And, of course, Francis released a landmark 180-page papal encyclical, a formal statement of the church, in June that blamed human activity for climate change and said action on it is a moral imperative.

All the signs point to Francis making climate a major, if not central, component to his U.S. trip.

Democrats hope Francis uses his speech to Congress to call for action on climate change, and Republicans have been bracing for the same. Rep. Paul GosarPaul GosarLawmakers seek answers on Pentagon employees' casino, strip club charges House conservatives are winning Ryan faces new pressures from House conservatives MORE (R-Ariz.) said he will skip the speech to boycott Francis’s advocacy on the issue.

Green groups, though, are rushing to embrace it. Organizers of a Thursday rally on the National Mall expect to attract a massive crowd to hear the pope’s message and demonstrate for climate action. 

Polling has shown Francis’s encyclical on climate change didn’t have the large-scale impact environmentalists had hoped. But they and Democratic officials say this trip, the pope’s highest-profile yet, will give his message a chance to resonate.

“The pope’s voice, his encyclical, comes at a time when countries around the world are preparing for an important international meeting at the end of the year in Paris,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said on a press call Thursday.

“I think the pope has spoken about the need for all of us to meet our responsibility to care for God’s creation. And that, I think, provides an important moral backdrop to the type of policy decisions that individual leaders will make on climate change.”


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