This month, the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development hosted Kenneth Hackett, current U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. Hackett, Notre Dame’s 2012 Laetare Medal recipient, was president of Catholic Relief Services and advisor to the Keough School of Global Affairs. During his time on campus on March 18, Hackett gave a talk about Pope Francis, the pope’s changes at the Vatican, his encyclical Laudato Si’, and the American response.

Hackett sees Pope Francis as being influenced by his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, who lived in the late 1100s and was known for his humility, simplicity, and love of creation. According to tradition, St. Francis experienced a vision of Jesus telling him, “Rebuild my Church.” Saint Francis’ subsequent actions have influenced the Church and arguably have acted as a catalyst for the revitalization of the faithful. Pope Francis seems to be attempting a similar mission, and Hackett sees the pope’s actions as being driven by this goal.

Furthermore, Pope Francis is following the trajectory of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, in advocating for more transparency and more efficiency within the Vatican. One such measure aimed at more transparency was the appointment of Australian Cardinal George Pell as the cardinal prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy, a new department created in 2014 for the purpose of ensuring greater transparency within the Vatican budget. According to Ambassador Hackett, the pope’s reforms have gotten some pushback, but that has not deterred his energy in seeking revitalization of the Church as an organization.

Along these same lines, Hackett has seen Pope Francis focus on five themes during his papacy: care for the poor, the Church as a field hospital for sinners, the family, the role of bishops and priests, and strong leadership within the Church hierarchy. He believes the pope is attempting to make long-lasting, cultural changes both within the Church and outside of it. His overarching emphasis is on ensuring that the Church remains accessible, especially to members of society who are commonly marginalized.

Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Laudato Si’, addresses a broad spectrum of issues, from global warming and pollution to care of the vulnerable and impoverished. Released prior to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, Laudato Si’ includes appeals for the care of our common planet. The encyclical’s overwhelming focus on global warming  has received some pushback from those who assert that the Church does not have the authority to speak on scientific matters.

In order to ensure scientific rigor, Pope Francis met with, discussed, and employed several scientists and researchers to gather their opinions on the current ecological state of the world before making his statements. He appeals not just to Catholics but to the whole world to take a renewed stand against the destruction of the planet.

“The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development,” the encyclical states. “I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”

Hackett believes the overall response to climate change has been positive. For example, he cited Mission Innovation, a global effort to find more efficient and sustainable energy technology. Furthermore, Hackett has seen a positive U.S. response to climate change since Laudato Si’ and the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. He mentioned the White House’s American Business Act on Climate Pledge, in which 154 companies including AT&T and Walmart pledged to reduce their emissions, and the EPA’s efforts to reduce power plant emissions.

“Progress is being made,” Hackett stated in his lecture. In his visit to the U.S. in September 2015, Pope Francis commended President Obama on his initiatives addressing climate change, saying, “Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. … We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.”

While Laudato Si’ emphasizes ecology and care of the natural world, Hackett asserted that Pope Francis also values the role of humans in nature as caretakers for one another. Hackett ended his lecture by stating that Pope Francis’ appeals for the care of nature and our fellow mankind ultimately should be seen in the light of this Year of Mercy.

Brie Bahe is a junior majoring in neuroscience and behavior with a minor in philosophy. Her favorite type of flower is the daisy and she can be reached at