Pope Francis has flown to the Philippines, an island nation frequently hit by natural disasters, declaring that man is primarily responsible for climate change.
Wading into the climate change debate on board the papal plane, the Pope told journalists he hoped negotiators at the next round of climate change talks in Paris in November would take a courageous stand to protect the environment.
“I don’t know if it is all (man’s fault) but the majority is, for the most part, it is man who continuously slaps down nature,” he said.
“We have in a sense taken over nature. I think we have exploited nature too much.”
The comments were Pope Francis’ clearest on the environment since he pledged to make the issue a priority on the day of his installation as Pope in 2013.
“We have, in a sense, lorded it over nature, over Sister Earth, over Mother Earth,” said the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, who has in the past spoken about the need to protect the environment.
“I think man has gone too far,” he said.
“Thank God that today there are voices that are speaking about this.”
Greeted in Manila by ecstatic crowds on Thursday evening, Pope Francis will on Saturday travel to Leyte, the island hardest hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 and meet with survivors.
The Philippine government has said the typhoon was an example of extreme weather conditions caused by global warming.
An average of more than 20 typhoons hit the Philippines a year and the country suffers from frequent floods, mudslides and earthquakes.
The 78 year-old Pope said he hoped his long awaited encyclical on the environment will encourage Paris negotiators to make decisions that protect God’s creation.
He said he wanted it out in plenty of time to be read and absorbed before the Paris meeting after the last round of negotiations failed in Peru last month.
About 190 nations attending the Peru meeting agreed that governments submit national plans for reining in greenhouse gas emissions by an informal deadline of March 31 2015 to form the basis of a global agreement due at the Paris meeting.
“The meetings in Peru were nothing much, I was disappointed,” Pope Francis said.
“There was a lack of courage. They stopped at a certain point. We hope that in Paris the representatives have more courage to go forward,” he said.
The Pope also told journalists on the plane there are limits to freedom of expression, especially when it insults or ridicules someone’s faith.
Referring to the terror attacks in Paris, he said defending freedom of speech was not only a fundamental human right but a duty to speak one’s mind for the sake of the common good.
But he said there were limits.
“You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of others,” he said.
Referring to past religious wars, such as the Crusades sanctioned by the Catholic Church against Islam, the Pope said “let’s consider our own history. How many wars of religion have we had? Even we were sinners but you can’t kill in the name of God. That’s an aberration.”
Pope Francis played down fears he may be the target of terrorists as he arrived in the Philippines where 40,000 police, soldiers and volunteers have been deployed to protect him.
He said he was primarily concerned for the faithful and said he had spoken to Vatican security officials who are taking “prudent and secure measures.”
“I’m in God’s hands,” he said.
A plot by al-Qaeda terrorists to assassinate Pope John Paul 11 in Manila 1995 was foiled days before he arrived in the Philippines.
Pope Francis said his visit to the Philippines, Asia’s largest Catholic nation, will focus on the plight of the poor, the exploited and victims of injustice – themes that will resonate in a country where poverty afflicts a fourth of the 100 million people.
Church bells tolled as he stepped from his plane at Manila airport to be welcomed by well wishers led by President Benigno Aquino.
A sudden gust of wind blew off his cap seconds after he appeared but he smiled when he failed to grab it and began his four day visit to the country where there are 75 million Catholics.
With AP, Reuters and agencies
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