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Before The World's Most Powerful, Pope Delivers Environmental Message


Pope Francis delivered an appeal for social justice in a speech today to some of the world's most powerful people. Presidents, prime ministers and diplomats gathered for the U.N. General Assembly. He covered many subjects, but his focus was the environment and how its degradation affects the poor most of all. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is traveling with the pope, and she joins us now from New York. Hi, Sylvia.


MCEVERS: I guess it's not surprising that the pope, during his U.S. visit, is echoing many of the themes of his recent encyclical on climate change. But what stood out for you today, Sylvia?

POGGIOLI: Well, he talked about what he called a right to the environment and that anything that harms the environment harms humanity and that man has no right to abuse it. Here he is speaking through an interpreter.


POPE FRANCIS: (Through interpreter) In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and the disadvantaged.

POGGIOLI: In fact, in his speech, as in the teaching document on the environment that he released in June, he closely linked climate change and the poor and marginalized who suffer the most of all. He also expressed confidence that world leaders will reach an agreement, finally, in Paris at the climate change conference at the end of the year to take steps to curb global warming.

MCEVERS: Liberals must have been pretty heartened by this talk that climate change is due to human activity. Did the pope have any comments that conservatives could hold onto?

POGGIOLI: Oh, yes, he did. He spoke about what he called false rights. Now, the Vatican has clashed many times over the years with the United Nations and some of its agencies for their promotion of abortion rights, population control, issues like that in some developing countries, often as a condition for development grants. This is part of what Pope Francis calls ideological colonization. Let's listen to that.


POPE FRANCIS: (Through interpreter) By the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people's identity and, in the end, are irresponsible.

POGGIOLI: That was a veiled reference to same-sex marriage and the theory that gender is flexible.

MCEVERS: And Sylvia, you've been traveling with the pope this past week, as I mentioned. You started that trip in Rome. Then you went to Cuba, and here you've come to the U.S. And what's it been like to be inside the papal bubble? How does he strike you when you meet him up close?

POGGIOLI: Well, you know, the pope is very interested in meeting the media. And on our flight from Rome to Havana, he came back to economy where we're all seated, and he was introduced to each reporter one by one. When it was my turn, I shook hands with him and told him we have something in common. Both our parents were Italian and had to leave Fascist Italy. His went to Argentina, mine to the United States. He smiled, and he told me that his family almost didn't make it. They were supposed to set sail on the SS Mafalda, but for some reason, they didn't. And they sailed on another ship. Sometime later, the Mafalda sank off the coast of Brazil, killing hundreds. Ten years after that, Jorge Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires.

MCEVERS: Wow. That's a great story. You've got one more stop left with the pope before you head back to Rome. Is that right?

POGGIOLI: That's right. Next stop tomorrow - Philadelphia and then back to Rome.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli traveling with the Pope. Sylvia, thank you so much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.
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