Washington, D.C. – Pope Francis has come out swinging in his very first public address on American soil, telling President Obama that “climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation” while calling religious liberty “one of America’s most precious possessions” that must be defended from all threats.
In the first line of his address, the Pope identified himself as “the son of an immigrant family,” happy to be a guest in this country, “which was largely built by such families,” but went no further into the embattled question of immigration.
Instead, the Pope reserved some of his strongest language for the problem of threats against religious freedom in America.
While recognizing that “American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive” and to rejecting “every form of unjust discrimination,” the Pope immediately added that this openness to diversity must be balanced with respect for religious persons’ “deepest concerns” and “their right to religious liberty.”
“That freedom,” Francis said, “remains one of America’s most precious possessions” and all are called to be vigilant “to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”
In a veiled reference to the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in the United States, the Pope said he would travel to Philadelphia “to celebrate and support the institutions of marriage and the family at this, a critical moment in the history of our civilization.”
Pope Francis devoted the biggest portion of his brief address to the question of the environment, telling President Obama that “we are living at a critical moment of history” and that “climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.”
In what was clearly a preparation for his upcoming remarks to the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development Friday, Francis said that we “still have time to make the changes needed to bring about a sustainable and integral development.”
He said that responsible care for the environment demands not only responsible recognition of the kind of world we are leaving to our children, “but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them.”
Quoting Martin Luther King, Jr (and calling him “Reverend” rather than the politically correct “Doctor”), the Pope said that “we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it.”
As Christians inspired by the certainty that God never abandons us, Francis said, “we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.”
In a reference to Cuban-American relations, the Pope praised “the efforts which were recently made to mend broken relationships,” which he said represent a positive step “along the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom.”
The Pope expressed his wish that Americans would continue sharing their “peace and prosperity” with all the world.
“I would like all men and women of good will in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome