ROME – On Earth Day, Pope Francis sent a message to world leaders attending a high-level climate summit organized by the United States, telling participants be good custodians of nature, calling it “a gift that we have received, and that we have heal, protect, and carry it to the future.”

U.S. President Joe Biden is hosting the April 22-23 “Leaders Summit on Climate,” which coincides with Earth Day and draws participation from influential United Nations, political, and industry leaders worldwide.

Speakers for the virtual event include UN Secretary General António Guterres; French President Emmanuel Macron; Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi; Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Russian President Vladimir Putin; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; British Prime Minister Boris Johnson; and Chinese President Xi Jinping, among others.

The aim of the event is to underline the importance and urgency of the world’s largest economies to up their environmental efforts ahead of the COP26 UN climate summit scheduled to take place in Glasgow from Nov. 1-12, 2021, with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 Fahrenheit).

Each leader is expected to offer a panorama of the climate-related challenges their country faces and the actions they are taking to curb their carbon footprint. New goals and strategies are expected to come out of the two-day discussion.

Pope Francis’s message was broadcast in the second session on the first day of the summit, which is being livestreamed from the U.S. State Department’s website.

Francis said the mission to protect the environment takes on great significance in the post-COVID-19 pandemic world.

“It is not over yet, but we have to look forward, because it is a crisis. We know that you don’t come out of a crisis the same: We either come out better or worse.”

He also mentioned working to the COP26 UN climate meeting taking place in Glasgow in November.

On the same day, Pope Francis sent another video marking Earth Day, saying COVID-19 “has shown us what happens when the world stops, when it pauses, even for a few months.”

In addition to the massive economic fallout, the impact of the pandemic on nature and on climate change has also become evident “in a sadly positive way,” the pope said, adding that, “it hurts” to think that it took a massive global crisis for cities to become greener and smog thinner.

“Global nature needs our lives on this planet,” he said. “It involves us all, albeit in many different and unequivocal ways; and so, it teaches us even more about what we must do to create a just, equitable, and secure planet from an environmental perspective.”

Among other things, COVID-19 has taught humanity “interdependence” and a “sharing of the planet.”

“Both global disasters, COVID-19 and the climate, show that we no longer have any time to wait. That time is pressing us and that, as COVID-19 has taught us, yes we have the means to face the challenge,” Francis said, adding, “We have the means. It is the moment to act, we are at the limit.”

In his video, the pope said Earth Day is a good reminder “that the things that we have been saying to each other for a long time must not fall into oblivion.”

“For some time, we have been becoming more aware that nature deserves to be protected, even if for the sole fact that human interactions with God’s biodiversity (which God has given us) must take place with the utmost attention and respect: taking care of biodiversity, and taking care of nature,” he said.

Alluding to the dangers that climate change and global warming present, Francis recited an old Spanish saying that “God always forgives, we men forgive sometimes, but nature never forgives.”

“When this destruction of nature is triggered, it is very difficult to stop it. But we still have time,” he said, insisting that “we will be even more resilient if we work together instead of doing it alone.”

The challenges posed by the pandemic and by climate change must “spur us, must push us to innovation, invention, to seek new paths,” he said.

Pope Francis closed his message with an appeal to all world leaders, urging them to “act with courage, operate with justice, and always tell the truth to people, so that the people know how to protect themselves from the destruction of the planet, how to protect the planet from the destruction that we very often trigger.”

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