Faith & Climate

Climate Change in the Spotlight as Pope Francis Visits the U.S.

The pope is expected to highlight environmental issues during his trips to three American cities.

This week, Pope Francis is visiting Washington, D.C., New York, and Philadelphia to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress, address the United Nations General Assembly, and meet with other elected officials, religious leaders, and members of the public. This is Pope Francis's first visit to the United States and the first time any pope has addressed Congress. According to media reports, the pope's addresses to the UN and Congress are expected to feature the issue of climate change.

This session of the UN General Assembly will discuss climate and sustainable development goals, as international leaders prepare for a major climate conference in Paris beginning November 30—COP21, the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In Washington, D.C., the group Moral Action on Climate (a coalition of interfaith, environmental, and social justice organizations) will host a rally this Thursday, September 24 on the National Mall to show support for climate action and environmental justice.

Pope Francis has been speaking out prominently about the need to take action on climate change, including by issuing an encyclical (letter to bishops) in June that called climate change “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” Since his election in 2013, he has also underscored the importance of protecting the environment in other remarks. The pope has emphasized that the changing climate disproportionately affects the world’s poor and vulnerable communities. Lucia Silecchia, a law professor at Catholic University of America, said to U.S. News and World Report that "the impact during Pope Francis's time here is likely to lie in his ability to frame ecological questions as moral questions.”

On Monday the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic research university, announced it will stop using coal in the next five years, invest in renewable energy, and cut its carbon footprint in half by 2030. University president Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., cited the pope’s visit and encyclical as inspiration.

Many of Pope Francis’s appearances will be available to watch online via livestream, including his address to Congress on Thursday, September 24 at 10 a.m. and to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, September 25 at 8:30 a.m.

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