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WATCH: Pope Francis Congratulates Swedish Climate Activist Greta Thunberg

Pope Francis greets Swedish teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg (R) during a weekly general audience at Saint Peter's square on April 17, 2019. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP) (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty
THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D.

Pope Francis urged Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg to continue her crusade against climate change, during a brief meeting at the end of his general audience Wednesday.

As Pope Francis approached the 16-year-old activist, who was seated in the VIP section in St. Peter’s Square to be able to greet the pontiff, he immediately recognized her, exclaiming in Spanish “La famosa!”

Greta’s Spanish-speaking handler explained Greta’s role as an activist against climate change, after which the pope turned to her and said, again in Spanish, “I congratulate you.”

Asked whether she had anything to say to the pope, the girl told him: “Thank you for standing up for the climate, for speaking the truth. It means a lot.”

“Continue, continue,” Francis replied, this time in English. “Go on, go ahead.”

When Greta held up her sign reading “Join the climate strike” for a photo with the pope, he said, “God bless you. Pray for me.”

Thunberg was in Rome to meet the pope and to speak before the Italian senate.

For his part, Pope Francis has made care for the environment and work against climate change a hallmark of his pontificate. In 2015, he became the first pope ever to devote an entire “encyclical” letter to the topic of the environment.

In that letter, bearing the Latin title Laudato Si (“Praised Be”), the pope urged Christians to become more ecologically aware and active.

The earth “is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” as “once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish,” he wrote.

Francis also decried a failure to recycle paper and other resources, while calling climate change “a global problem with grave implications” and “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

Citing “scientific studies,” the pontiff said that “most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.”

“Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies,” he warned.

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