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Mayor of New York on Pope Francis: ‘Strongest Moral Voice in World Is Calling Political Leaders to Action’

Mayor De Blasio Tells ZENIT of US Papal Trip, Hopes for a ‘Cleansing’ of Congress

The mayor of New York says nothing could be more encouraging or inspirational than having Pope Francis, “the strongest moral voice in the world today,” calling the world’s leading political forces to action.

Mayor Bill de Blasio made this statement in an interview granted to ZENIT and other journalists Tuesday following the first day of a two-day workshop in the Vatican, titled, “Modern Slavery and Climate Change: A Commitment of the Cities,” organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. 

“I want to say upfront I think this was an extraordinary gathering and the Pope once again has shown us a new kind of leadership,” the mayor said, especially “by bringing together mayors from around the world and the leaders who want to take action on climate change and human trafficking right now.”

“This is the way to change the paradigm,” he said.

His Holiness, New York’s mayor stressed, is ‘keenly aware’ of this strategic meeting to combat these global issues.  Meeting us mayors, he noted, was “an extraordinarily effective act because a lot of like-minded people in that room are now committed to action and to doing so quickly to make an impact on these issues in the world, always remembering there is always the reality of human life and strength in numbers. I think it is a reminder of how many leaders around the world locally want to push their national governments to action and want to lead by example.”

“But let’s face it. Having the support of His Holiness is the most encouraging thing I can think of. It is the most empowering possibility to have the strongest moral voice in the globe today calling us to action,” Mayor de Blasio underscored.

“So to me, it was an absolute privilege to be a part of this. And I immediately started thinking about what more we could do as we look ahead. So it certainly had the desired effect on me of calling me to do more and more quickly.”

The mayor noted that he did not get to meet Pope Francis, but he did have “the honor of being in the room” as he addressed all the mayors. “It was fun even being close to him,” the mayor said.

“His voice is so inspirational. I think for most of us around the world, we see him on television and we read his writings and that’s what inspires us. It will be a real honor to spend some time [with him] in New York in September. But just to hear him speak today, the power of his voice, and also thinking about the meaning of the encyclical has been incredible,” Mayor de Blasio said.

The encyclical, the mayor went on to say, is “an extraordinarily important document,” which “powerfully” and “sharply” conveys “the need for change.”

When asked about his views on the Pope’s having criticized unjust business and political practices, he said, “I think he is calling out the business world and government. I think he’s equal opportunity. I think he is saying that institutions around the world have failed and need to deal with certain issues much more forcefully.”

“Pope Francis is certainly not afraid to talk about the issues about the capitalist system, and that is necessary,” he said.

The mayor classified the encyclical as “balanced”: “Also within the document, Pope Francis speaks of individual responsibility. The responsibility of the average citizen to not be obsessed so much with consumer culture. I think it’s very, very balanced.”

The mayor observed that the Pope “very elegantly” and “powerfully” showed in his remarks Tuesday how the issues of human trafficking, poverty, and climate change are interconnected. “If we are not attending to the Earth, if we don’t have a just economy, if those two realities are based on business and government decisions that don’t make sense, unfortunately they deepen the negative trend cycle.”

Visit to New York

The Pope’s apostolic visit to the United States is scheduled for Sept. 22-27. On Thursday the 24th, the Pontiff will arrive at New York’s JFK International Airport. That night, there will be Vespers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The next day will include a visit to the United Nations, with an address of the Pope to the UN General Assembly; a multi-religious service at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, World Trade Center; a visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School, East Harlem; and a Mass that night at Madison Square Garden before leaving New York the next morning for Philadelphia.

ZENIT asked the mayor about the state of preparations for the Pope’s visit and what his hopes are.

“I think it is going to be extraordinary,” the mayor replied smiling. “There is this tremendous energy in New York City in anticipation of the Pope’s visit.”

“Now I think it will happen during our annual UN Week. So certainly, logistically, there will be a lot going on. And it’s going to take a huge effort from the city to accommodate both the papal visit and the UN week, but we are ready. We’ve been in preparations now for months, working very closely with Cardinal [Timothy] Dolan and his team and of course Vatican representatives in the United States. So I think it’s going to be an extraordinary moment and I think the emotion that the people of New York City feel for this Pope will manifest itself in the streets of New York.”

“I think anywhere he goes, you’ll see a great outpouring of support for him.”

Mayor de Blasio commented further on his teamwork with Cardinal Dolan in preparing for the Holy Father’s visit. 

“Cardinal Dolan is a great friend,” he said. “My last formal meeting with Cardinal Dolan was at a Met’s game at CitiField. So we spend time together socially, as well as working together. We also had been together in Staten Island for a very powerful memorial service for the one-year anniversary of the death of [Eric] Garner [a New Yorker, who, on July 17 of last year, was unarmed and died after being placed in a chokehold by a NYPD officer].”

“We’ve been talking about this visit for months. We checked in a number of times. I think there’s tremendous coordination between the archdiocese, the city, government… We are very confident about this visit,” he said.

Moving personal experience

Asked what it meant to him personally to be invited to the Vatican, Mayor de Blasio, visibly touched, said:  “Extraordinary. It’s one of the great moments, certainly in my professional life, in my life as a political actor, but humanly as well.”

“[The Pope] is a leader such as we have not seen before. Really,” the mayor stressed. “He is saying things so clearly and powerfully all over the world. He is moving people on an extraordinary level. And we have few truly international leaders in any sense. What he is doing is creating an international voice of conscience.”

“To be in his presence,” New York’s mayor underscored,  “is a joy to begin with and very moving. And I’ll tell you why this truly is a life highlight and so inspiring. It’s like an energy boost, seeing what can be possible. I think that’s the power of His Holiness. He is reminding us of what can be possible. You never see him saying, ‘Well, this would be a good thing to do if only it were practical.’ He is literally saying to us that we need to reset our assumptions and think more deeply and morally about our actions, because our current sense of practicality is digging our graves, and I think his voice is having a very big moral impact.”

Congress ‘Cleansing’

When asked his view of the Pope bringing this message to Congress and Washington, Mayor de Blasio said, “I hope it will have a ‘cleansing effect’ on the US Congress.”

“The Pope’s message needs to be heard in Washington. It has been ignored. The very ideas of addressing inequality and creating a more fair economic reality have been ignored. The timing really couldn’t be any better,” the mayor said. “I think he has the ability to cut through all that and really be a wake-up call for Congress.”

About Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, at times from the papal flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has done television and radio commentary, including for Vatican Radio, Sky, and BBC. She is a contributor to National Catholic Register, UK Catholic Herald, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside the Vatican, and other Catholic news outlets. She has also collaborated with the Vatican in various projects, including an internship at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and is a collaborator with NBC Universal, NBC News, Euronews, and EWTN. For 'The Other Francis': or

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