Pope Francis urged radical action on climate change today as he met US President Joe Biden at the Vatican, in the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow.
In the 75-minute meeting, described as “warm”, they are understand to have discussed poverty, climate and other issues of concern to them both, including healthcare, the Covid-19 pandemic, refugees and migrants, human rights and freedom of religion and conscience.
In 2017, the Pope met President Trump for 30 minutes and in 2014, he met Obama for 52 minutes. The length of the meeting with Biden is a strong indication of the warmth of their relationship.
President Biden, who is attending the G20 summit in Rome before flying to Scotland, told the Pope: “You are the most significant warrior for peace I've ever met. And with your permission, I'd like to be able to give you a coin. It has the US seal on the front. What is different with this coin – I know my son would want me to give it to you,” Biden said, referring to his late son Beau.
In their meeting, President Biden thanked Pope Francis for his advocacy for the world’s poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict, and persecution. He lauded Pope Francis’ leadership in fighting the climate crisis, as well as his advocacy to ensure the pandemic ends for everyone through vaccine sharing and an equitable global economic recovery.
Biden then went on to meet Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin. President Biden thanked Cardinal Parolin for the Vatican’s active leadership in fighting the climate crisis, both through advocacy and encouraging the climate neutrality of hundreds of Christian organisations worldwide. The leaders discussed efforts to rally global support for vaccinating the developing world against Covid-19. President Biden thanked the Vatican for speaking out on behalf of the wrongfully detained, including in Venezuela and Cuba. The leaders committed to continue using their voices to advocate for personal and religious freedoms world-wide.
Asked afterwards if the issue of abortion had come up, Biden remarked: “No it didn’t.” He added: “We just talked about the fact he was happy that I was a good Catholic and I should keep receiving communion.” Asked if he and Pope Francis had discussed the US bishops, Biden said the conversation had been “private”.
Earlier, delivering BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day this morning, Pope Francis urged world leaders at next week’s UN climate conference in Glasgow to respond to the environmental crisis and offer “concrete hope to future generations”.
He called for “radical decisions” in the wake of the pandemic and climate emergency.
Pope Francis, speaking in Italian with an English voice over for nearly five minutes, said: “Climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic have exposed our deep vulnerability and raised numerous doubts and concerns about our economic systems and the way we organise our societies.
“We have lost our sense of security, and are experiencing a sense of powerlessness and loss of control over our lives.
“We find ourselves increasingly frail and even fearful, caught up in a succession of “crises” in the areas of health care, the environment, food supplies and the economy, to say nothing of social, humanitarian and ethical crises. All these crises are profoundly interconnected. They also forecast a “perfect storm” that could rupture the bonds holding our society together within the greater gift of God’s creation.
“Every crisis calls for vision, the ability to formulate plans and put them rapidly into action, to rethink the future of the world, our common home, and to reassess our common purpose.
Pope Francis records Thoughts for the Day for BBC Radio 4.
“These crises present us with the need to take decisions, radical decisions that are not always easy. At the same time, moments of difficulty like these also present opportunities, opportunities that we must not waste.
“We can confront these crises by retreating into isolationism, protectionism and exploitation. Or we can see in them a real chance for change, a genuine moment of conversion, and not simply in a spiritual sense.”
He concluded: “Humanity has never before had at its disposal so many means for achieving this goal. The political decision makers who will meet at COP26 in Glasgow are urgently summoned to provide effective responses to the present ecological crisis and in this way to offer concrete hope to future generations. And it is worth repeating that each of us – whoever and wherever we may be – can play our own part in changing our collective response to the unprecedented threat of climate change and the degradation of our common home.”
Pope Francis will not attend COP26, so this message for the BBC could constitute a significant part of his public intervention on the summit.