JULIE PACE, NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Cheered by jubilant crowds across the nation's capital during his U.S, visit last month, Pope Francis forged common cause with President Barack Obama on climate change, immigration and inequality, as the popular pontiff signaled he would not sidestep issues that have deeply divided Americans.
On his first full day in the United States, the pope also reached out to America's 450 bishops, many of whom have struggled to come to terms with his new social justice-minded direction for the Catholic Church. He gently prodded the bishops to forgo "harsh and divisive language," while commending their "courage" in the face of the church's sexual abuse scandal — rhetoric that angered victims he may meet with later in his trip.
Late in the day, Francis — the first pope from the Americas — canonized Junipero Serra, the famous 18th century Spanish friar who brought the Catholic faith to California.
The 78-year-old pontiff's whirlwind day in Washington enlivened the often stoic, politically polarized city. Excited crowds lined streets near the White House to catch a glimpse of the smiling and waving Francis as he passed by in his open-air "popemobile." He seemed to draw energy from the cheering spectators, particularly the children his security detail brought to him for a papal kiss and blessing.
In keeping with his reputation as the "people's pope," Francis kept Obama and other dignitaries at the White House waiting so he could spend time greeting schoolchildren gathered outside the Vatican's diplomatic mission where he spent the night.
The pope's remarks were brief, yet pointed. Speaking in soft, halting English, Francis said that as the son of an immigrant family, he was "happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families." The Argentine pope was born to Italian parents who left their home country before he was born, and he has been a forceful advocate for humane treatment of migrants.
Francis was enthusiastic in his embrace of Obama's climate change agenda, specifically praising the president for taking steps to reduce air pollution. In a firm message to those who doubt the science of climate change, he said the warming planet "demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition" of the world that will be left to today's children.
"Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation," said Francis, who has been pressing his environmental message ahead of climate change talks in Paris later this year.
The pope's messages were warmly welcomed by Obama, who has prodded his Republican rivals for action on immigration and climate change with limited success. The pope and president were also aligned in their call for addressing global poverty and inequality, with Obama praising Francis' call to put "the least of these at the center of our concern."
The pope had something for conservatives, too, with a clear 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."