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Pope Francis arrives at White House, calls for action against climate change

Some 15,000 spectators cheered Wednesday as Pope Francis arrived at the White House and delivered a speech in which he urged action against climate change, saying it is no longer a problem that can be left to future generations.

Arriving in a humble Fiat vehicle, the pontiff delivered a rare speech in English after being greeted by President Obama and his wife, Michelle.

"As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families," Pope Francis told the audience in the South Lawn of the White House. "I look forward to these days of encounter and dialogue, in which I hope to listen to, and share, many of the hopes and dreams of the American people."

The pontiff praised Obama for his initiative to reduce air pollution. "Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our 'common home,' we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change," he said.

Pope Francis added: "Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them. Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities and our societies. To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it."

The pope said recent efforts to mend broken relations and to open new doors to cooperation represent "positive steps" along the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom. "I would like all men and women of good will in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development, so that our brothers and sisters everywhere may know the blessings of peace and prosperity which God wills for all his children," he said.

The pontiff also spoke out on religious freedom, calling it one of America's most precious possessions. "American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination," he said. "As my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it."

In Obama's speech, the president also thanked Pope Francis for helping restore relations between the United States and Cuba. "We are grateful for your invaluable support of our new beginning with the Cuban people, which holds out the promise of better relations between our countries, greater cooperation across our hemisphere, and a better life for the Cuban people," he said.

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