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Pope Francis: Protecting Mother Earth Is Our Duty, Not an Option

Pope Francis urged environmental stewardship as a moral obligation in a speech in Ecuador on climate change during a visit to South America.

Speaking to an audience that included Indigenous Peoples of the Equatorial Amazon, Pope Francis on July 7 renewed his emphasis on environmental stewardship and justice as moral obligations and urged the world’s leaders to face the reality of climate change.

"One thing is certain: we can no longer turn our backs on reality, on our brothers and sisters, on Mother Earth," he said in a speech at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador, quoted by Reuters. "It is wrong to turn aside from what is happening all around us, as if certain situations did not exist or have nothing to do with our lives.”

His choice of Ecuador was no accident, Reuters noted, given the region’s reliance on gas and oil drilling and the lack of environmental oversight in this most fragile and vital of ecosystems. The Amazon region has been notoriously polluted and its Indigenous Peoples persecuted, with poverty playing a key role in the environmental destruction.

"As stewards of these riches which we have received, we have an obligation toward society as a whole and toward future generations," Francis said, according to the Associated Press. "We cannot bequeath this heritage to them without proper care for the environment, without a sense of gratuitousness born of our contemplation of the created world."

The speech, part of a three-nation South America tour, comes on the heels of the June release of the Pope’s encyclical on climate change, a 192-page document that asserts that Indigenous Peoples can be key players in both mitigating and confronting the decline of our human habitat.

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In December 2014 the groundwork was laid for the initiative as word emerged that Pope Francis would be issuing the report, with the goal of influencing the climate change talks in Paris later this year.

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The Pope is next headed to Bolivia, where he will spend four hours in La Paz and meet with President Evo Morales, then will speak at a summit of grassroots groups before heading to Paraguay, according to AP. In September he travels to the United Nations to bring the environmental message to the United States.