VATICAN CITY, June 19 (Reuters) - U.S. climate envoy John Kerry met Pope Francis on Monday, the first official to have a private audience with him since his discharge from hospital, and told Reuters that he found the pontiff "in great spirits and in great form".

Francis, 86, left Rome's Gemelli hospital on Friday, nine days after surgery to repair an abdominal hernia.

"He was in great spirits and great form ... I was really amazed. He embraced a lot of our conversation. It was a nice meeting," said Kerry, who was the first person on the pope's public schedule.

"I found the pope to be very much the pope that I have had the privilege of seeing several times over the last years. He was strong. He was clear. He seemed in very good form and good spirits," Kerry, 79, said in an interview in front of St. Peter's Square.

In 2015, Francis wrote Laudato Si (Praised Be), a landmark encyclical on the need to protect the environment, combat climate change and reduce use of fossil fuels. An encyclical is the highest form of papal writing.

"Laudato Si stands up as a major and important turning point for a lot of people," Kerry said.

[1/4] U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry arrives for an interview with Reuters after meeting with Pope Francis, near the Vatican, in Rome, Italy, June 19, 2023. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

The former U.S. secretary of state said the pope had a "profound impact" on the 2015 Paris climate conference that set goals to limit global warming, and he thanked Francis for continuing "to sound the alarm" about the dangers and challenges of climate change.

Kerry is having a series of meetings ahead of COP28, the latest U.N. climate summit that is to be held at the end of this year in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

"Now we have to continue and have the next movement, if you will, and I think COP28 in Dubai presents a good opportunity to do that because we all understand the implications of what's been happening over the last few years," Kerry said.

"This is getting more challenging, more serious, more immediate than it has been at any time, and I think that you are going to see more action as a result of that," he said.

The head of the United Nations climate body has said he was not satisfied with the outcome of a recent 10-day conference in Berlin, and that the process was moving too slowly given the urgency of the crisis.

(This story has been refiled to remove extraneous word 'Friday' from paragraph 1)

Reporting by Philip Pullella; editing by Toby Chopra and Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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