Pope Francis is already considered one of the most progressive Popes in recent history, and his new focus on the environment is only supporting this public opinion of him. In his recent address at the University of Molise, Pope Francis called for more respect for nature. At the University in Southern Italy in the agricultural and industrial region, the Pope referenced the destruction of South America’s rain forests and other forms of environmental exploitation as a sin of modern times.

“This is one of the greatest challenges of our time: to convert ourselves to a type of development that knows how to respect creation,” he told students, struggling farmers, and laid-off workers in a university hall. “When I look at America, also my own homeland (South America), so many forests, all cut, that have become land … that can longer give life. This is our sin, exploiting the Earth and not allowing her to her give us what she has within her,” the Argentinean pope said.

Pope Francis took his name from Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment, and has made a number of appeals for improved environmental protection since he took the position as head of the Catholic Church last year in March. After the university gathering, Francis said mass for tens of thousands of people in a stadium.

Rainforests all over the world, but particularly in South America, are in great danger. According to National Geographic, during the past 40 years, 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been cut down, more than in the entire previous 450 years since European colonizers arrived in the area. Environmentalists fear that an additional 20 percent may be lost in the next two decades, and if this happens, things will start to unravel quickly as the forests’ ecology will no longer be self-supporting.

With influential public figures like Pope Francis speaking out against environmental exploitation, hopefully more people will begin to consider the ongoing plight of rainforests and species around the world.