RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And let's move from the big news in Washington, D.C., to New York and NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, who's traveling with the pope. As we speak, Francis is addressing the U.N. General Assembly. He went off-schedule a bit this morning and spoke with about 400 U.N. staffers, urging them to work together to push a global agenda of peace. Many observers see his message to the U.N. as just another sign that the Vatican is moving back onto the global stage as a diplomatic player.
And, Sylvia, you're there in New York. Good morning.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: In his speech on Capitol Hill yesterday, the pope called on Congress to work for a common good. I mean, Republicans and Democrats have different ideas about what that means, but they all seem to be moved and also respectful of the pontiff. What about the U.N., a very different forum? What do we expect today?
POGGIOLI: Well, the Vatican's representative to the United Nations, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, says that the key topics will be the pope's biggest concerns - poverty, climate change, social justice, what he calls globalized indifference. Francis already forcefully raised the issue of environmental degradation in his speech yesterday before the U.S. Congress, and he will do so again in his speech today. It's expected to last 30 minutes, and it comes ahead of a three-day summit where some 150 world leaders will officially adopt a global sustainable development agenda for the next 15 years. And Francis will certainly urge world leaders to agree finally on setting limits on greenhouse gases to curb global warming at the crucial climate change conference at the end of the year in Paris.
MONTAGNE: Well, you know, Francis is above all a religious figure. Interesting, though, that these major speeches are not being given in churches.
POGGIOLI: Well, you know, after the papacy of Benedict XVI, the Vatican somewhat withdrew from the world stage. Now, Francis has emerged as a real diplomatic player. The Vatican has always had a core of diplomats for centuries. It has ambassadors in 180 countries and always played a kind of behind-the-scene role in many world issues. But Francis has really entered the diplomatic fray directly in person. He was the facilitator of the detente process between Cuba and the United States.
And the other day, the Vatican cited the pope's contribution to the breakthrough in peace talks between Colombia and the biggest rebel army after a very long civil war there. Now, for decades during the Cold War, the Vatican was always very clearly in the Western camp. Now with this first Latin American pope, things are shifting. Francis has brought a new perspective, you know, reflecting a different part of the world - the South.
In 2013, when the United States was on the verge of launching airstrikes against Syria, Francis' position was closer to Russia and China. And he called a global day of prayer for Syria. And the pressure to launch airstrikes against the Assad government lessened. That was a real example of the leader of the Catholic Church wielding his soft power.
MONTAGNE: A very big agenda there. Let's narrow it down to today. What do we know what's on the rest of Francis' schedule?
POGGIOLI: He will go to Ground Zero, the 9/11 Memorial Museum for an interreligious prayer service. He'll ride through Central Park in his popemobile. Then he meets children of immigrants at a Catholic school in East Harlem and winds up another whirlwind day with a mass at Madison Square Garden. Next stop - Philadelphia and the World Meeting of Families. I don't know how he does it.
MONTAGNE: Although, he seems, I must say - and many of us watched this and heard it yesterday - to be enjoying it.
POGGIOLI: Oh, he particularly likes when he's mingling with the crowds. You probably saw him yesterday when he went to visit the homeless after addressing Congress. You know, all the times he walks out into the crowds, kisses babies, that's when he's in his real element. He's enjoying this a lot.
MONTAGNE: All right and that's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli speaking to us from the U.N., where Pope Francis is speaking right now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.