VATICAN CITY: US President Joe Biden, only the second Catholic to hold his office, had a private audience with Pope Francis on Friday at the start of a European trip aimed at reasserting US international credentials.
The president hailed the pontiff as “the most significant warrior of peace I have ever met”, in a meeting at the Vatican lasting more than an hour — longer than his two predecessors were given.
It was closed to the media but footage released by the Vatican showed a good-humoured gathering full of smiles, with Biden at points visibly moved, and elsewhere telling the pope “God love ya”.
He gave the pontiff a presidential coin recalling the regiment in which his son Beau Biden, who died from cancer in 2015, had served, saying: “I know my son would want me to give this to you.”
Biden, who is open about his faith and how it gives him strength, has already met Francis three times before but this was their first tete-a-tete since he entered the White House. It was arranged to coincide with the G20 leaders summit in Rome and next week’s crunch UN climate talks in Glasgow, in which Biden hopes to push his mantra that “America is back” after the Trump years.
Both Biden and the pope have been outspoken on the need to tackle global warming — Francis repeated his call for action in a BBC broadcast Friday — and this was a dominant theme of their talks.
“I thanked His Holiness for his advocacy for the world’s poor and those suffering from hunger, conflict, and persecution, and lauded his leadership in fighting the climate crisis and ending the pandemic,” the president tweeted later.
He said the meeting, part of which was with his wife Jill, had been “an honour”. The Vatican said they discussed climate change, the pandemic and the issue of refugees and migrants, as well as “the protection of human rights, including freedom of religion and conscience”.
There was no mention from either side of the red-button issue of abortion. Biden supports the right to choose, while Francis, 84, has slammed terminating pregnancies as “murder”. The pontiff has nonetheless distanced himself from a push by conservative US bishops to deny communion to politicians supportive of abortion rights — which would include Biden.
Meanwhile, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg attended a small protest in London on Friday against global banks’ role in the fossil fuel industry, ahead of travelling to the upcoming COP26 summit in Scotland.
The 18-year-old environmental icon joined a few dozen young protesters demanding banks stop financing polluting projects, such as fossil fuel extraction, outside the headquarters of Standard Chartered bank.
After being thronged by the hordes of waiting cameras, she briefly rallied with other young activists at the site in London’s financial district before leaving without making a speech. The group posed for picture behind a banner reading “defund climate chaos! Stop funding our destruction!” while others held aloft placards with similar slogans.
“Today we’re outside @StanChart asking them to stop funding our destruction,” Thunberg tweeted soon after. The demonstrators had earlier protested at several other sites in the City of London finance hub and were due to hold a vigil later Friday outside the Bank of England.
“We’ve come here today as a part of this week of action because… the UK and corporations in the UK have been funding climate chaos and the destruction of our islands for decades,” Joseph Sikuli, an activist from Tonga in the South Pacific, told AFP.
Organisers say similar protests are being held in 26 countries worldwide ahead of COP26. The 12-day gathering of world leaders and environmental policy delegates kicks off Sunday in the Scottish city Glasgow.
Thunberg, whose Fridays For Future movement has inspired massive street protests around the world since 2018, has confirmed she plans to join a November 5 march for “climate justice” there.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday urged China’s President Xi Jinping and other world leaders to take “concrete action” on climate change as they spoke by phone ahead of the upcoming COP26 talks.
The pair discussed “a range of issues, including action to address the climate crisis ahead of COP26, global trade and economic cooperation, and security and human rights”, according to a press release from Johnson’s Downing Street office.
Johnson’s government is hosting the two-week UN summit in Glasgow from Sunday, but Xi will not be attending. China did, however, on Thursday renew its emissions cutting plan with a promise that its carbon pollution would peak before 2030.
“The prime minister acknowledged China’s new Nationally Determined Contribution and welcomed their work on the COP15 Biodiversity Summit,” said Johnson’s office. “He emphasised the importance of all countries stepping up their ambition on climate change at COP26 and taking concrete action to cut emissions and expedite the transition to renewable energy, including phasing out coal.”
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned global leaders on Friday that upcoming climate talks in the Scottish city Glasgow could fail without renewed trust among G20 leaders, calling for “more ambition and more action”.
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