Pope Francis’ address to Congress opens space for dialogue on climate change

Pope Francis shakes hands with Secretary of State John Kerry as he enters the House chamber to address a joint session of Congress.

Pope Francis shakes hands with Secretary of State John Kerry as he enters the House chamber to address a joint session of Congress.

Pope Francis’ address to Congress opens space for dialogue on climate change

By Stone Irvin

When Pope Francis addressed a joint session of Congress Thursday, he spoke to several important problems facing the country, not the least of which was climate change. He spoke to both our country’s strengths and its weaknesses. He did not point fingers.

And this was not lost on members of Congress and media outlets. The Pope’s moderate tone invoked the Golden Rule, American heroes and icons, and acknowledged our striving. And this tone allowed Francis to speak to our problems while sparing our pride.

“He walked in the front of the room knowing that Republicans would be on the defensive, and he immediately put them at ease with his opening that America is the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave,’ ” said CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds. “He drew them into the conversation and gave everyone a lot of room to be reflective. His conclusion that America is a land of dreams was the perfect way to wrap it up.”

The Twitter feeds of members of Congress have been abuzz with positive affirmation of the spirit of goodwill the Pope’s words have left in departing, such as those of Rep. Chris Gibson (R. NY), who last week sponsored a non-binding resolution on climate change with 10 other Republican representatives.



Francis chose neither to praise specific actions to halt climate change, nor lambast those who have impeded progress, instead stressing the importance of moving forward.

In Laudato Si, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps,’ and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States — and this Congress — have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a ‘culture of care’ and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature. We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology; to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power; and to put technology at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral. In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.”

The tone of hope and encouragement urges citizens and Congress to raise the call to arms against national challenges rather than fold into the pitfall of individual agenda.

“Our government has a responsibility to its citizens to provide a system where everyone – especially the least fortunate – has an opportunity to succeed,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), a co-sponsor of the Gibson resolution, said in a press statement issued from his website. “By addressing such complex issues as poverty, climate change, immigration reform, and the sanctity of life, Pope Francis is challenging our nation and the world to leave a better community for generations to come.”

The Papal address to Congress, like the Gibson resolution introduced a week prior, sets the tone for a new stage in the development of climate solutions; one where there is no longer a debate on climate, but a conversation, where the moral call championed by groups like CCL and the Friends Committee on National Legislation becomes more important than the political agenda blocking progress.

Rep. Bob Dold (R, IL), another co-sponsor of the Gibson resolution, released a statement that acknowledged the importance of a faith-based call to action where so often the conversation is drowned out by a shouting match with a false premise: that the myriad beliefs of this country’s citizens are representative of a lack of commitment to a singular, positive result.

“It was a tremendous honor to hear Pope Francis address Congress,” Dold said. “We can all learn from his message of compassion and dedication to faith-based empowerment. I hope Congress will take his words to heart and move forward together to solve some of the most pressing challenges facing our country.”

Stone Irvin is an intern with the communications team of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Steve Valk
Steve Valk is Communications Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby. Steve joined the CCL staff in 2009 after a 30-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter at @valklimate.