New York Gov. Hochul visits Pope Francis in Vatican climate conference

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul visited Vatican City on Thursday to hear a climate address from Pope Francis and deliver one of her own.

Hochul, who is Catholic, sat in the first row as Francis spoke in the Clementine Hall, a luminous chamber with walls adorned by intricate Renaissance frescoes, and was invited to greet the pope after his speech.

Hochul’s taxpayer-funded trip came five days after Mayor Eric Adams had an audience with the pope in the Vatican. Hochul previously met Francis in 2015, when she was serving as New York’s lieutenant governor and he made a trip to Washington.

At the time, Hochul told WBFO-FM that she viewed Francis as “humble but inspirational.”

In her youth, Hochul studied and prayed at Saints Peter and Paul School, a church and grade school near Buffalo. She grew up in an Irish Catholic home, she has said, where a picture of the pope at the time was displayed next to an image of John F. Kennedy. Later, she earned a law degree at Catholic University of America.

Francis, a one-time bouncer from Argentina, is viewed favorably by about three-quarters of U.S. Catholics, according to a poll published by the Pew Research Center earlier this year.

But he has frustrated some conservative American Catholics with his moves toward greater acceptance of gay people. Last year, he authorized priests to bless same-sex couples.

The environment is among Francis’ top focuses, and Hochul traveled to Vatican City to join a three-day climate summit. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California and Gov. Maura Healey of Massachusetts also appeared at the conference, as did London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan.

In remarks Thursday, Francis, 87, said the ravages of climate change will fall hardest on the global poor.

“The refusal to act quickly to protect the most vulnerable who are exposed to climate change caused by human activity is a serious offense and a grave violation of human rights,” the pope said.

Hochul said in her speech at the summit that New York State would invest $300 million in environmental resiliency spending on regions that have been hit hard by climate change.

Describing asthma alleys in New York where poor air quality has damaged the lungs of children, the governor said, “Disadvantaged communities should not be any worse environmentally than any other affluent community.”

“That is an injustice,” she said, “And we’ll continue to fight that.”

Hochul’s appearance in Vatican City came on the second day of a week-long European trip. She was set to travel next to Dublin, where she was scheduled to meet with the Irish prime minister, Simon Harris, and visit the country’s Parliament.

Later in the trip, she is expected to visit Ireland’s County Kerry, where she has family roots.

Hochul’s spokesman Avi Small said in a statement that the trip is being supported by New York taxpayers because she is traveling on “official business representing the State of New York,” but that costs “outside normal reimbursable business expenses will be paid for by the governor’s own personal funds.”

She is scheduled to return to New York next Tuesday.