Climate change, religious freedom among issues covered on first day of papal visit

WASHINGTON — Pope Francis wasted no time hammering home his message of tolerance, service and mercy on Wednesday, his first full day in D.C.  — hot button issues he is expected to press again when he addresses both houses of Congress this morning.

At multiple events Wednesday he touched on climate change, religious freedom, and family, as well as sexual abuse by clergy members. He started off the day by addressing the issue of immigration with a reminder that he too is from an immigrant family.

“I am happy to be in this country, which was built by such families,” he told a crowd of 15,000 well-wishers on the South Lawn of the White House.

He spoke about serving the downtrodden as well as addressing climate change now, not deferring it for another generation. He later reminded U.S. bishops that they are stewards of the planet, not masters.

While his environmental views may not find much favor when he stands in the U.S. House chamber, controlled by Republicans and conservatives, his views on religious freedom and protection of the family likely will.

During the event, which will be broadcast to a ticketed-only crowded on the West Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, a rally in support of climate action is set to be held simultaneously on the National Mall between 7th and 3rd streets. That event is open to the public and free. 

Later in the morning, Pope Francis is set to visit St. Patrick’s Church downtown, where he’ll meet with clients of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. Then, he’ll have a private lunch with the St. Maria Meals program.

He’ll take a break in the afternoon before heading to New York City for the second leg of his U.S. tour. 

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