ROME – In a keynote speech to the Clinton Global Initiative Monday, Pope Francis stressed the need to foster a culture of encounter and global fraternity in a world marred by war and what, he said, is a growing climate crisis.
After a brief greeting from former United States President Bill Clinton, the pope thanked him for the invitation and said it is important in the current global context “to spread a culture of encounter, a culture of dialogue, a culture of listening and of understanding.”
“It is necessary to share thoughts on how to contribute to the common good, and how not to leave behind the most vulnerable people,” especially children, he said.
Though he did not specifically mention the war in Ukraine, Francis decried what he has often called a third world war “fought in pieces” and said now is the time “to find the change of peace, the change of brotherhood.”
“It is time for weapons to cease and for us to return to dialogue and diplomacy. Let the designs of conquest and military aggression cease. That is why I repeat: No to war! No to war!” he said.
Pope Francis spoke at this year’s edition of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), an annual conference attended by emerging global leaders and aimed at exploring and implementing solutions to major world challenges, such as climate change and healthcare, as well as the global refugee crisis and child welfare.
The initiative is part of the Clinton Foundation, established by Clinton – who served as president of the United States from 1993-2001, and whose wife, Hillary Clinton, was the Democratic nominee in the 2016 presidential race – over 20 years ago to create projects designed to tackle global challenges and to encourage everyone regardless of age or status to be part of the solution.
Pope Francis’s address comes ahead of his overnight trip to Marseille at the end of this week, where the environment and global migration crisis are expected to be major talking points, and ahead of the Oct. 4 release of a second, smaller edition of his 2015 eco-encyclical, Laudato Si.
In his opening remarks for Monday’s panel, Clinton questioned attendees on what they intend to do in the face of the world’s great challenges, and how to keep themselves from getting discouraged when it seems little progress is being made.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m rich and powerful, I can make a difference and I can do so every single day,” he said, saying, “we have a responsibility to try to make a difference.”
“Giving up and giving in is a surefire guarantee that we will not make progress on the challenges facing us,” he said, urging attendees to “keep yourself open to new ideas and new perspectives. Above all, steel yourself to keep going, whatever that looks like, because our future depends on it.”
He told Francis that the conference’s aim was to “follow the admonition of Isaiah, who told us we had to be repairers of the breach. Our world is broken in many ways, but also filled with many possibilities.”
In his speech, the pope underlined the importance of collaboration, saying, “We all know that we are living through a change of era. Only together can we emerge from it better, together. Only together can we heal the world from an anonymity which is the globalization of indifference.”
Francis pointed to various modern challenges, including climate change, various humanitarian crises involving migrants and refugees, and the lack of care experienced by many of the world’s children.
“I would add to them the wind of war that blows around the world, fueling with the spirit of war what I have repeatedly called the third world war fought piecemeal,” he said, saying, “a great and shared assumption of responsibility is needed.”
Noting that change begins at the personal level, the pope said no obstacle is too big to face “if we meet it starting with personal conversion of each one of us.”
Everyone’s contribution is necessary, as well as an awareness “of what it is that makes us part of the same destiny,” he said, saying, “no challenge can be overcome alone. Not alone, but together, sisters and brothers, children of God.”
Pope Francis echoed Clinton’s insistence about refusing to give in, instructing “all men and women of goodwill not to give up in the face of difficulties.”
“Difficulties are part of life and the best way to face them is to always seek the common good, never alone, always together,” he said, saying difficulties can bring out both the best and the worst in people.
The challenge is choosing the best, and involves “fighting selfishness, narcissism, division, with generosity and humility,” he said, adding, “Better unity than conflict.”
Francis also urged attendees to work together “to stop the ecological catastrophe before it’s too late,” and pointed to the Oct. 4 release of his new document on the environment, the publication of which falls on the feast day of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi.
“Let us stop while there is still time, please. Please, let us stop while there is still time,” he said, saying this also applies to the migration crisis, and urged CGI attendees to remember that “we are not talking about numbers, but about people: men, women, and children.”
He said children need special attention, especially in terms of their education and care, and pointed to the work of the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital, which provides treatment free of charge to children in need.
“In the world it is known as ‘the pope’s hospital,’ but to me that’s not why it is unique,” he said, noting that the hospital cannot solve all the problems of the world’s children, “yet it seeks to be a sign, a testimony that it is possible, through many efforts, to bring together great scientific research, destined to cure children, and the gratuitous welcoming of people in need.”
Science and hospitality are rarely found together “at such a high level,” the pope said, noting that on several occasions, helicopters have arrived to the Vatican with children from different parts of the world in need of urgent care.
To this end, he noted that so far, more than 2,000 children fleeing Ukraine have been treated and hosted with their families at Bambino Gesù since the war began last February.
“In the healthcare sector, today more than ever, the first and most concrete form of charity is science, the ability to cure, which, however, must be accessible to all,” Pope Francis said, saying the Bambino Gesù Hospital “is a concrete sign of the Church’s charity and mercy.”
He insisted that “there are illnesses that cannot be cured, but there are no children who cannot be cared for,” saying this is what makes the Bambino Gesù unique.
In his final greeting to the pope, Clinton said, “You make us all feel empowered, and perhaps that is your greatest power as the pope, that you make everybody, even people who aren’t members of the Roman Catholic Church, feel that they have power and therefore have responsibility.”
“It is an extraordinary gift, and I thank you for that,” he said.
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