ROME – After meeting Pope Francis Monday, United States  Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry told journalists that he hoped the pontiff would attend a UN climate summit this fall and said care for the planet is a Christian responsibility.

This marked the third meeting between Pope Francis and Kerry, the former United States Secretary of State under President Barack Obama and current Presidential Envoy for Climate under President Joe Biden. Kerry was also the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004.

A Catholic, Kerry spoke with a small group of journalists, including Crux, outside the Vatican press office following his meeting with the pope.

Kerry voiced hope that Pope Francis would attend the upcoming United Nations climate summit, COP28, which is set to take place in Abu Dhabi from Nov. 28-Dec. 3, 2023.

While declining to comment on Vatican mediation in the war in Ukraine, Kerry said he has been invited to be part of a group evaluating the environmental fallout of the war.

He also highlighted the role of religious leaders in promoting climate action and addressed climate skeptics, calling it a “mistake” to disengage from the global climate agenda.

Kerry is also scheduled to meet Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, a leading figure in the conservative government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, before flying to Paris.

Please read below for United States Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry’s conversation with journalists Monday.

Is there any indication that the pope might go to the next COP?

I think he’s open to it. We didn’t spend a lot of time on that, but he was clearly talking about potential future options, and let’s see what happens. That was not the subject of our conversation today.

The fact that the Holy See signed onto the Paris agreement last year and the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change]. Did you find that that gave them greater leverage at Charles Shank? What might that leverage mean going forward?

I think the Vatican, the pope, the Holy Father, has remarkable leverage anyway, because he has constantly been an outspoken and engaged advocate on this issue, he believes it very deeply. He’s very troubled by where we are, and where we are not, and where we should be. I think he’s thinking about ways he can continue to have an impact on it, I’m sure. We talked about that and I’m very confident about his openness to finding what’s going to be most comfortable for him to do at this point, and what makes most sense for him to do.

We had a good meeting with Cardinal Parolin following up on that, and the pope specifically said to me, you ought to run these ideas by Cardinal Parolin so he can get in on it.

Just FYI, I found him in great form, very jovial and positive, and strong and ready to go.

Secretary [Anthony] Blinken is in currently in China, it’s a meeting between high-level representatives of two of the largest polluting countries. Did that come up in conversation at all?

We did, we talked a little bit about the responsibility of nations and what would make a difference to the world. We took note together of the fact that China and the United States represent about 40 percent of all the emissions, and they have an ability to have as much of an impact as any other nation in the world, more than that. So, that was a source of our discussion was, how do we do that? How do we go forward?

I think that the Holy Father has an enormous ability to convene people, to help generate energy about this as he did in Paris for COP15. My hope is, quite openly, that he is going to engage and be one of the people helping to focus on this moment, which I think is almost equivalent to Paris. I think this is a Paris-type moment COP, with the potential to also have an impact because of the various things that are in play.

Did the war in Ukraine come up in your conversation?

Yeah it did, we chatted a little bit about it, but I think we saw it…He articulated the degree to which it’s disturbing the ability to focus on some of these other things at the same time, I think everybody’s noticed that.

I’ve been asked by some folks in Ukraine to take part in an evaluative group that will look at the environmental damage, which I’ve agreed to do, and we’ll see where that goes, but obviously Ukraine is on everyone’s minds.

As a former Secretary of State, what do you think of the Vatican’s offer to mediate the conflict?

I’m not going to get into it. I may be a former Secretary of State, but I’m also currently the Presidential Envoy for Climate. So, I’m staying in my lane.

You’ve traveled extensively and visited countries around the world, are there any countries you would say have been concretely influenced by Laudato Si in shaping their policies?

I know personally from people around the world that they were influenced by it, and I think that everybody who was really engaged in the negotiations welcomed it and saw it as a really positive fulcrum, if you will, for something in decision making that had to take place.

Now you have overwhelming polling data around the world that citizens are concerned and are asking for responsible leadership to be responsible. I think some of that was obviously affected by the flock at large, it has had some impact and as you know, the pope convened a bunch of religious leaders prior to Paris.

I think it might be helpful to try to rekindle some of those embers and start to generate a focus now.

What is the role of larger religious communities and religious leaders in combatting climate change? Why is the pope’s voice important on this issue?

I think it’s important for religious leaders to be engaged on this issue because it goes to the heart of morality, of individual responsibility for others and for mother earth. It has a lot to do with the scriptures of one religion or another. Creation, care, is very much a live theory of Christian and other responsibility, so I don’t think you can fulfill your obligations without taking care of the planet into consideration.

It’s pretty hard to do. It’s hard to be honoring poor people and protecting poor people and dealing with poverty, or advancing sustainability, or doing all the other things that people have been talking about and neglecting for years. It’s hard to do that if you’re not focused on stopping the cause of this increased crisis, and that cause are the emissions that come from the unabated burning of fossil fuel, so that’s what we have to focus on.

What would you say to Catholics who are perhaps skeptical of the climate agenda?

I think that the majority of the polls in the US show that at least American Catholics, a majority, are deeply concerned about it the issue and want to see action taken. I think that you can go back to, I know a lot of us were influenced as young people by Pope John XXIII and there was a general sense that there was a part of the catechism that talked about your responsibility to  your neighbors, your responsibility to other people.

The pope in Laudato Si wrote about how the major relationship in life is sort of defied in three ways: by your relationship to God, your relationship to your neighbors, and your relationship to mother earth, to earth. I think that being Catholic involves trying to find ways to live that out, in my judgement. That I think is what the teaching is. Not my judgement, because that’s irrelevant, but it’s the teaching.

Some people are skeptical, I think it’s a mistake. I always have been impressed by what President Kennedy said when he was inaugurated, he said that ‘here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.’ This is monumentally devastating to poor people, to people who live in disadvantaged areas of cities, where they are the ones breathing most of the diesel fumes, the ones who suffer the most impact on their children, who are infected by bad air quality and might die from it, or who at least might have hospitalization in the summertime. It’s the greatest cause of children being hospitalized in America, is environmentally-induced asthma.

So, if you put the pieces together, if you connect the dots, it’s pretty hard to imagine how you don’t come out and say, we’re going to care about this, and we’re going to be involved in trying to fix it. I don’t know how you fulfill any Christian obligation without doing that.

Any chance that we’ll see President Biden here before COP28?

I don’t know. I know the President is planning to go to COP28, but I can’t tell you where he’s going to be.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen