VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Pope Francis met with John Kerry, the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, in a private meeting at the Vatican on Saturday (May 15). Kerry praised the pontiff for his leadership and advocacy for the environment, calling him “one of the most powerful voices on the planet.”
Francis has “been ahead of the curve” when it comes to pressing the importance of caring for creation, Kerry told Vatican News in an interview after the meeting.
“The pope is one of the great voices of reason and compelling moral authority on the subject of the climate crisis,” he added.
The Vatican issued no details about the meeting but shared photographs and footage of the encounter. Kerry had already met the pontiff twice, in 2014 and 2016, while serving as secretary of state under President Barack Obama.
Kerry stopped at the Vatican during a European trip, in which he has spoken to political leaders in Rome, London and Berlin to promote greater cooperation in combating climate change. The trip is in preparation for the 26th Conference on Climate Change, also known as COP26, which will take place in November in Glasgow, Scotland.
Pope Francis’ voice, Kerry said, “will be a very important voice leading up to and through the Glasgow conference.” According to the presidential envoy, Pope Francis plans to attend the summit of world leaders in the United Kingdom.
Honored to meet with His Holiness Pope Francis @Pontifex today in the Vatican to speak about the global challenges caused by the climate crisis and the need for a clear call to action. pic.twitter.com/7lnsIM6NNo
— Special Presidential Envoy John Kerry (@ClimateEnvoy) May 15, 2021
The pope has sent his right-hand man, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to previous COP summits and last year sent a message calling for international cooperation and lamenting how “the current commitments made by states to mitigate and adapt to climate change are far from those actually needed to achieve the goals set by the Paris Agreement.”
Francis earned his reputation as a vocal advocate for the care of the environment with his 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” which Kerry described as a “very powerful document, eloquent and morally persuasive.” On Sunday, the Vatican launched the “Laudato Si'” week to celebrate the anniversary of the document and promote ecological events in parishes and dioceses worldwide.
The private audience between Pope Francis and Kerry suggests a synergy between the Biden administration in the United States and the Vatican City State when it comes to the environment. Before meeting with the pontiff, Kerry gave a keynote address to the Pontifical Academy for Sciences and the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, the Vatican think tanks on sociological, scientific and political matters.
“The Vatican may be a small entity, but the flock is enormous on a global basis and His Holiness, Pope Francis, has the ability to help galvanize action from countries,” Kerry said, adding that the pontiffs’ words can compel people of the world to demand change and action from their leaders.
“I think that the world has a special respect for Pope Francis and there is no question that he has already been a significant leader in this endeavor,” Kerry said, “and we look to him for further guidance and help in getting this job done.”
Kerry stressed the commitment of the Biden administration to address the climate crisis, but he underlined that “no one country can solve this problem.” While every country must take measures to reduce emissions, he said, there is a difference in what can be expected from nations at different stages of development.
“People need to know this is doable. And in the doing of it, we can create millions of jobs,” Kerry said, while describing the positive impact the care for the environment can have in people’s everyday lives, from employment to health to energy.
“I think that the Holy Father speaks with special authority to our sense of obligation to each other, and the ways in which we need to all step up now together, given the divisions of the world and some of the polarization and the ideology and conflict,” Kerry said. “That voice is more important than ever.”