MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges was among a group of mayors from around the world who met with Pope Francis Tuesday in Rome.

The focus of the meeting was on two subjects the pope has highlighted as priorities: climate change and human trafficking.

Hodges was one of nine U.S. mayors the Vatican invited to the pope’s conference, where 60 leaders were told that humans are causing destruction by not taking care of the earth.

The conference is the latest indication that this pope’s stand on social issues sets him apart.

After attending the conference, Hodges said by phone that she found the pope inspiring.

“It is an extraordinary thing to hear him talk about two issues that he sees as moral imperatives for the entire world and encouraging us as mayors to take action,” she said.

Hodges believes she was invited because of her advocacy on sex trafficking and environmental issues.

The conference is the latest example of the pope’s emphasis on social issues.

Massimo Faggioli, the director of the Institute for Catholicism at the University of St. Thomas, said the current pope is markedly difference from his predecessors.

He says the pope’s advocacy on issues like sex trafficking, the environment, income inequality and acceptance of gays are a dramatic shift for Catholics.

“He is giving the church a reality check in the sense that it is a change we were waiting for,” Faggioli said.

Hodges, who is not Catholic, said she was moved to hear the pope.

“It was a profound experience,” she said. “He is a very powerful presence, quietly powerful presence.”

It’s a view shared by some Twin Cities Catholics, including Jean Smith.

“I like the fact that he is bringing the church back to where it should have been all along,” she said. “I am even considering becoming an active Catholic again.”

But not everyone is happy with the pope’s views.

Conservatives have accused him of being a socialist.

Faggioli said he doubts those critics will have much impact on the pope.

Esme Murphy

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