September 10th, 2015


Founder and President, Regeneration Project

President, University of San Francisco

Mayor, San Jose


Even non-Catholics can’t help being captivated by the current pope, who took his name from St. Francis of Assisi. His recent encyclical highlights the concept of “integral ecology,” calling on all of humanity to take responsibility for healing the earth and stewarding its creatures, and it has inspired worldwide admiration across faiths.

Reverend Canon Sally Bingham couldn’t be more pleased that Pope Francis has taken on the issue of global warming. Her organization Interfaith Power and Light has been preaching a moral response to climate change for fifteen years, she says. Having the current pope validate that message from his pulpit, “giving a statement that was essentially for all people of conscience, not just for Roman Catholics - we are exalted. I mean everyone is just jumping on this message to say “See, we told you so!”

Bingham joined Greg Dalton and two other guests at the Commonwealth Club to discuss Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the United States. He will be the first Pope ever to address the U.S. Congress, and only the third to visit an American president. And when he touches down, Bingham will be front and center – figuratively if not literally. “The exciting thing that I get to do is be on the White House lawn when the Pope arrives,” she told the audience. In addition to his congressional address and meeting with President Obama, the pope will conduct a canonization mass and speak at a rally on the national mall. Between 200,000 and 500,000 people are expected to attend.

Father Paul Fitzgerald, a Jesuit leader and president of the University of San Francisco, shares Bingham’s enthusiasm for Pope Francis, calling him “a magnificent soul.”

“We call it the grace of office,” says Fitzgerald. “He is kind, he is generous, he is welcoming, he has washed the feet of Muslim women. He’s doing all kinds of what I would call symbolic, prophetic actions to ask the church and the world to think again about us being one human family.”

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo joined mayors from 65 cities world who traveled to Vatican City earlier this year for a worldwide summit to address climate solutions in their communities.

“I’m a big fan of this Pope,” Liccardo admits, “and it was a great opportunity, certainly for me, to learn from other mayors of large cities that are out there innovating doing very creative things, to try to move the needle in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the environment.” Still, says the mayor, the pope isn’t focused on technical solutions.

“He’s talking about an adaptive problem that requires a complete shift in cultural paradigm,” says Liccardo, “a revolution of sorts in how we think and act in our daily lives.”

As the pope wrote in his encyclical, Laudato Si, “Many things have to change course, but it is we, human beings above all who need to change.” 

Such personal and cultural mindfulness – what Pope Francis calls “integral ecology” – may sound revolutionary. But Fitzgerald points out that this pope is building on a theme laid down by his predecessors in a string of encyclicals going back to Leo XIII.

“Each one builds on the last one,” he explains. “And they’re based on a profound and fundamental insight that our convictions should inform every aspect of our life, including our relationships with those whom we love, our participation in our city, in our church, in our world, and that everything is connected.”

“What the Pope is calling us to is simply…to close the largest gap ever measured by human beings: the 14 inches between the heart and the brain. 

“He keeps calling us back to care for the poor, but also then care for the other living beings and care for the ecosystems,” Fitzgerald says. “That’s integral ecology, but it’s just an integrated human existence.”


Related Links:

Interfaith Power and Light

Official Schedule for Pope Francis’ Upcoming Visit to the U.S.

Laudato Si: Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter

Encyclical Climate Action Kit


- Anny Celsi
September 10, 2015
The Commonwealth Club of California 
Photos by Ed Ritger