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During Pope's First Stop In Africa, Climate's On His Mind


Pope Francis is in Nairobi, Kenya, today. It's the first leg of a trip to Africa. No surprise, he's talking a lot about climate change. In just a few days, a major climate conference opens in Paris. The Pope is calling on world leaders to reach a deal to reduce global warming. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is in Nairobi, traveling with the Pope, and she joins us now. Hi, Sylvia.


SHAPIRO: The Pope spoke at a U.N. office there in Kenya. What did he say?

POGGIOLI: Well, he said it would be catastrophic if special interests prevail over the common good and lead to manipulation of information at the Paris conference. He didn't specify what those special interest are. But he has often expressed disdain for the laissez-faire consumer-oriented economic model and for climate-change deniers. He said either we improve the environment or destroy it. He also spoke of the rising tide of migrants fleeing, desertification and deforestation, both caused by global warming. With the many lives, many stories, many dreams shattered in our day, he said we have no right to remain indifferent.

SHAPIRO: This speech seems to underscore the idea that climate change is a major focus for this pope.

POGGIOLI: Absolutely. After all, he did take the name of St. Francis of Assisi, who's considered the patron saint of the environment. In a teaching document he released in June, the pope accused humans of turning the planet into an immense pile of filth. It's the poor, he says, who pay the highest price of global warming. And it's no coincidence he chose Africa, the poorest continent, to hammer this topic again. He said the rich natural resources here are exposed to the risk of destruction because of human selfishness.

SHAPIRO: Well, earlier in the day, the pope held a public mass at the University of Nairobi. And it sounds like it was a pretty extraordinary scene. Tell us about it.

POGGIOLI: Oh, it was a joyful crowd. They say about 300,000, according to the police. They braved pouring rain for hours to get a glimpse of the pope. And the ceremony included, you know, lots of singers and traditional dances. Let's listen to a little bit of the mass right now.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language).

POGGIOLI: In his homily, Francis praised African strong family values. But he also urged them to resist practices that encourage arrogance in men and hurt or demean women. In addressing young people, who are, in fact, the future of the growing Catholic population here in Africa, he told them to reject everything that leads to prejudice and discrimination.

SHAPIRO: Finally, the pope has been talking about clashes between Christians and Muslims that have been taking place in some parts of Africa. What's he saying about that conflict?

POGGIOLI: He said interfaith dialogue is not a luxury but is essential in a world wounded by conflict and division. He said Christian and Muslim leaders must engage in dialogue to prevent extremist attacks, like those carried out by the Al-Shabaab extremists from Somalia that killed hundreds of Kenyan civilians.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, traveling with the Pope in Nairobi, Kenya. Thanks, Sylvia.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.