During a conversation with former President Bill Clinton, Pope Francis urged stronger action on climate change, called for diplomacy instead of war, promoted greater health care access for children, and highlighted the crises facing migrants and refugees.
“It is important to spread a culture of encounter, a culture of dialogue, a culture of listening and of understanding,” Pope Francis said on Monday morning, appearing virtually at the Clinton Foundation’s 2023 Clinton Global Initiative meeting.
Pope Francis was the first of several guests to address the audience at the event in New York City, which was focused on various humanitarian efforts taken up by the nonprofit. The foundation played a video that showed the pope’s involvement with Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital, which is under the jurisdiction of the Holy See, before the former president asked him to “say what you believe about the obligation of ordinary people to make a difference” in society.
“It is necessary to share thoughts on how to contribute to the common good and how not to leave behind the most vulnerable people, such as children who, through the Bambino Gesù Foundation, are at the root of our meeting,” Pope Francis said.
During the conversation, the pope called for action on what he called “the ecological catastrophe” of climate change “before it’s too late.” He said people must take action “while there’s still time” and explained that this is the reason he is writing a new document to follow up on his environmental encyclical Laudato Si’.
Pope Francis also lamented the “wind of war that blows around the world,” adding that “we are in need of a great and shared assumption of responsibility.”
“It is time for weapons to cease and for us to return to dialogue, to diplomacy,” the pope stressed. “Let the designs of conquest and military aggressions cease. That is why I repeat: no to war; no to war.”
When considering the struggles of refugees and migrants, Pope Francis emphasized the need to talk about them as people, “men, women, and children,” and not simply think about them as numbers. He said people must think of “the eyes of the children we’ve seen in refugee camps.”
Pope Francis also commented on the work of the Bambino Gesù hospital, which he said “cannot solve the problems of all the children in the world; however, it seeks to be a sign, a testimony that it is possible through many struggles to bring together great scientific research geared toward children and the free welcoming of people in need.”
“In these terrible months marked by war, [the hospital] has treated more than 2,000 young patients from Ukraine who fled their country with their parents and relatives,” Pope Francis said.
The pope said that in the field of health, “the first and most concrete form of charity is science, the capacity to heal, which however must be accessible to all.” He referred to the hospital as a “concrete sign of charity and mercy of the Church.”
“There are illnesses that cannot be cured, but there are no children who cannot be cared for,” Pope Francis said.
The pontiff encouraged men and women to help each other when difficulties arise.
“Difficulties are part of life, and the best way to deal with them is to always seek the common good: never alone, always together,” Pope Francis said. “Difficulties can bring out the best or the worst in us. Therein lies our challenge: fighting selfishness, narcissism, division, with generosity and humility: better unity than conflict.”
Clinton thanked Pope Francis for addressing the meeting and “for saying something that I hope will mean something for every person.” He said one of the most difficult things in public life is “to convince every person that he or she has a role to play,”
“I think you make us all feel empowered and perhaps that is your greatest power as the pope,” Clinton said. “That you make everybody, even people who aren’t members of the Roman Catholic Church, feel that they have power and therefore that they have responsibility.”
The Clinton Global Initiative meeting began on Monday, Sept. 18, and will continue through Tuesday, Sept. 19.
Tyler Arnold is a staff reporter for the National Catholic Register. He previously worked at The Center Square and has been published in a variety of outlets, including The Associated Press, National Review, The American Conservative and The Federalist.