White House photo

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was one of about 11,000 people gathered Wednesday on the south lawn of the White House to hear Pope Francis’ first speech in the United States.

He later joined the pontif and 20,000 others for mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic Church in North America.

Malloy, who had VIP seats for the remarks on the south lawn, said it was an “amazing” and “moving experience” for him and thousands of other Catholics and non-Catholics who converged on Washington for the historic visit.

Malloy said he isn’t a practicing Catholic, but he embraced the progressive movement within the Catholic church known as liberation theology. Believers of the movement felt it wasn’t enough to simply care for the poor, but felt it was necessary to pursue political changes to eradicate poverty.

“This pope seems to be inviting that back,” Malloy said in a phone interview Wednesday evening.

During his speech on the south lawn of the White House, Pope Francis, an Argentinian, weighed in on climate change, religious liberty, and immigration in English.

Pope Francis told President Barack Obama that he’s encouraged by his initiative to reduce air pollution.

“Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to our future generation,” Francis said.

Malloy said climate change deniers not only have the president to contend with, but also the pope.

Francis is the fourth pope to visit the United States and third to visit Washington. He is also the first pope from the Americas.

“As a son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families,” Francis said during his first speech on the south lawn.

Obama, who spoke first during the ceremony on the south lawn, told Francis that he was grateful for “your invaluable support of our new beginning with the Cuban people.”

Obama went on to talk about religious liberty.

“Here in the United States, we cherish our religious liberty, but around the world, at this very moment, children of God, including Christians, are targeted and even killed because of their faith,” Obama said.

The 70 million Catholics in the United States are committed to that religious liberty, Obama said.

“American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination,” Francis said. “With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and the right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions.”

On Thursday, Francis will be the first pope to address Congress at the invitation of Republican Speaker John Boehner.

Following Wednesday’s mass, Malloy was headed to Democratic Governors Association events in Minnesota and Chicago.