John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is a devout Catholic. He has invited the last three popes to address a joint session of Congress, and his longstanding wish has now been fulfilled. Pope Francis accepted Speaker Boehner’s invitation, and will visit the Capitol to address a joint session on the morning of Sept. 24.

That evening, beginning at 7 o’clock, a group of civic, environmental, and faith-based organizations will present “Pope Francis’ Challenge,” a viewing and speak-out at the Oak Park Public Library, where a video recording of the pope’s address will be shown and attendees will be invited to share their thoughts on the significance of this historic event and the issues raised in the papal address.

The next night, Friday, Sept. 25, Pope Francis will be visiting the United Nations in New York City, where he will speak to the General Assembly. That appearance coincides with the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015, a three-day meeting of world leaders, which will formally adopt the UN’s sustainable development agenda and goals for 2030.

Spokespersons for the Vatican have made it known that Pope Francis will speak to the issue of immigration, and it is widely assumed that he will use the occasion to urge American lawmakers to act boldly on the climate and environmental justice issues he addressed in his recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, “On the Care of Our Common Home.” However, few additional hints have yet been made public as to the specific subjects the pontiff might include in his speech. Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service pointed out in a report last month that while Pope Francis is the first pontiff to address Congress, a number of his predecessors have addressed the United Nations. Wooden noted that Francis can be expected to follow the precedents set on those previous occasions, praising the founding ideals of both the United States and the United Nations while urging the leaders of both to consistently live up to those ideals. Other themes from Laudato Si’ which one might expect to hear are the “globalization of indifference,” the “throwaway culture” and “the economy of exclusion,” which the Pope contends are drivers of poverty, environmental degradation, climate injustice, and a host of other social ills.

The Oak Park event is one of many that will attempt to focus national attention on the Pope’s visit to the United States, in solidarity with the Washington, DC-based Week of Moral Action for Climate Justice. The centerpiece of the action is a rally on the morning of the speech on the National Mall, part of a gathering that the Washington Park Police are estimating will number in the range of 300-400,000. The organizers expect the rally to be livestreamed over the Internet. Check their website for updates to the schedule, as the logistics are subject to change.

Events are also planned for New York on Sept. 25, near the United Nations, including a prayer vigil and a civil society rally.

Looking to the immediate future, a broad coalition of climate and environmental justice groups are gearing up for significant rallies and actions in October and November, leading up to the Paris meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) which begins on Nov. 30. Pope Francis’ visit to the United States is expected to generate momentum for this organizing — around the nation and in Oak Park.


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 United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015:

 Catholic News Service report:

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