Obama warms to Pope after climate warning on US visit
Published 24/09/2015 | 02:30
Pope Francis has opened his visit to the United States with a strong call for action to combat climate change, calling it a problem that "can no longer be left to a future generation."
President Obama, in turn, hailed the Pontiff as a moral force who is "shaking us out of our complacency" with his reminders to care for the poor and the planet.
The White House mustered all the pageantry it had to offer as the Pope arrived before an adoring crowd of thousands and a nation that seemingly cannot get enough of the humble Pontiff, who is rejuvenating American Catholicism while giving heartburn to some of its conservatives.
Cheering crowds, with some people holding out babies for blessings, jammed a parade route along Constitution Avenue as Francis later made a leisurely loop around the streets near the White House in his open-sided popemobile.
Speaking in a soft voice and halting English at the White House, Francis delivered a firm message against those who doubt the science of climate change, saying that the warming planet "demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition" of what awaits today's children.
It was a message sure to please the Obama White House and liberals in general. But the Pope had something for conservatives, too, with a pointed call to protect religious liberties - "one of America's most precious possessions."
"All are called to be vigilant,' he said, "to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it."
It was a welcome message to many US bishops and the conservatives who have objected to the Obama administration's healthcare mandate and the recent Supreme Court legalisation of same-sex marriage.
Obama told the Pope during the welcoming ceremony that the excitement surrounding his visit was a reflection of Francis' "humility, your embrace of simplicity, the gentleness of your words and the generosity of your spirit".
He singled out the Pope's call for focusing on the poor and the marginalised, including refugees fleeing war and immigrants in search of a better life.
Obama, sensitive to conservative attacks against his administration, made a point in his remarks of saying: "We cherish religious liberty."
Even before he arrived for his first US visit, Francis was fending off conservative criticism of his economic views. He told reporters on his flight from Cuba that some people may have an inaccurate impression that he is "a little bit more left-leaning."
"I am certain that I have never said anything beyond what is in the social doctrine of the church," he said.
From Francis' vantage point, his next stop after the White House was just as critical. The 78-year-old pontiff was meeting with America's 450-strong bishops' conference at the Cathedral of St Matthew the Apostle.
Many US bishops have struggled to come to terms with Francis' new social justice-minded direction of the church. Nearly all were appointed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
They prioritised drawing clearer boundaries for Catholic behaviour and belief in the face of legalised abortion, advances in gay rights and the exodus of many Westerners from organised religion.
The US church spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year through its social service agencies and has sought an overhaul of the immigration system to reunite families, shelter refugees and give the poor the chance at a better life. But the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has increasingly put its resources behind high-profile fights over abortion, contraception and gay marriage.
Today, Pope Francis will deliver the first papal address ever to Congress,