Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey met Pope Francis Wednesday as part of a delegation of politicians from around the world hoping to enlist the pope’s help in framing the fight against climate change as a “moral imperative.”
“The pope has the potential to elevate this issue to a whole new level of importance,” Markey said. “I think we’re just at the beginning of his influence.”
Markey spoke to the Globe in Rome on Thursday before his return to Washington.
“Francis has the moral authority to galvanize a political will to act,” Markey said, “which will help legislators in countries around the world to pass the necessary legislation.”
The encounter with Pope Francis came at the end of the pontiff’s general audience, a regular public event held on Wednesdays in which he delivers teaching in St. Peter’s Square.
Markey was in Rome as part of a delegation organized by a London-based association of legislators from 80 countries that support environmental protection. Markey was the lone American in the group, which included politicians from South Africa, the Philippines, Mexico, the United Kingdom and Italy.
The pope acknowledged the international delegation in his remarks during the audience, and afterwards each member had a brief moment with him.
Members of the delegation also met with several Vatican officials, including the Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
Markey said he used his minute of face time with Francis to tell him that “the planet is running a fever, and there are no emergency rooms. We have to engage in preventive care to avoid the worst and most catastrophic impacts of global warming.”
Markey said the pope nodded and thanked him, but did not otherwise comment.
The Vatican confirmed in January that Pope Francis is preparing an encyclical letter on the environment, considered the most developed form of papal teaching. Markey said the legislators were asked by Turkson to contribute recommendations for that encyclical, and he focused on what he described as the disproportionately negative impact of global warming on the poor and on the working class.
Assuming it appears, this will be the first encyclical issued by a pope entirely devoted to the environment.
Markey said he used a Massachusetts example with Turkson to drive home the real-world cost of climate change, saying that warming ocean temperatures in the Atlantic are driving cod further north and having an adverse impact on the local fishing industry.
Markey has long been an outspoken advocate of environmental protection, even suggesting in 2010 that those who deny climate change should be exiled to a massive iceberg to “start their own country.”
At least on ecological matters, the pontiff is of like mind. During a speech to diplomats in January, for instance, Francis said that, “God always forgives, we sometimes forgive, but when nature – creation – is mistreated, she never forgives.”
He returned to the theme during a general audience on May 21.
“Custody of Creation is custody of God’s gift to us and it is also a way of saying thank you to God,” the pope said. “If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!”
Markey, a graduate of both Boston College and Boston College Law School, both institutions run by the Jesuit religious order, said meeting history’s first Jesuit pope had special meaning.
“It was one of the most important moments I will ever have,” he said, “not just as a senator but as a Catholic and a human being.”