Pope Francis urged the United States to help tackle climate change and touched on other divisive US political issues such as immigration and economic inequality on his first visit to the world’s richest country, Reuters reported.
In a speech on the White House South Lawn on Wednesday, the first full day of his US trip, the pontiff lauded President Barack Obama’s efforts to reduce air pollution, months after Francis made the environment one of his top concerns by issuing a landmark encyclical letter to the church.
“It seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation,” the pope said at a welcoming ceremony.
“When it comes to the care of our common home, we are living at a critical moment of history.”
In an era of renewed racial tensions in the country, the 78-year-old pope invoked America’s best-known civil rights leader, the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., to make points about the environment and equality.
Speaking later to US bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Francis said crimes of sexual abuse of minors by clergy should never be repeated, acknowledging the damage caused by years of scandal in the US Catholic church.
The pope also said mass for about 25,000 gathered inside and outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and canonized 18th century Spanish missionary Friar Junipero Serra despite the objections of critics who say Serra beat and imprisoned Native Americans, suppressed their cultures and facilitated the spread of diseases that killed many.
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