Addressing the 70th Session of the U.N. General Assembly, Pope Francis warned that without recognizing certain ethical limits, social progress risks becoming a cover for abuse, corruption and ideological colonization.
Pope Francis addressed the members of the international organization on the second leg of his Apostolic Visit to the United Nations. He is the fourth Pontiff to address the United Nations, preceded by Blessed Paul Vi in 1965, St. John Paul II in 1979 and 1995, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2008.
Recalling the organization’s 70th anniversary, the Pope praised the UN’s achievements in codifying international law, establishing human rights norms, as well as conflict resolution and peacekeeping missions around the world.
“Beyond these achievements, the experience of the past seventy years has made it clear that reform and adaptation to the times is always necessary in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of granting all countries, without exception, a share in, and a genuine and equitable influence on, decision-making processes,” he said. “The need for greater equity is especially true in the case of those bodies with effective executive capability, such as the Security Council, the Financial Agencies and the groups or mechanisms specifically created to deal with economic crises. This will help limit every kind of abuse or usury, especially where developing countries are concerned.”
Rights of the Environment and the Poor
The Pope called for the UN member states to protect the environment and to put an end to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged.
As part of the environment, he said, the care for the environment to mankind’s survival. “Any harm done to the environment,” he said, “is harm done to humanity.” Drawing applause from the delegations present, the Pope aligned with Christian and monotheistic religions in affirming that mankind is entrusted with the care for Creation by God and “is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it.”
The Pope also highlighted the consequences of the misuse and destruction of the environment, which leads to the detriment of the weak and disadvantaged. Ultimately, both the environment and the poor become casualties of the current throwaway culture.
“Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing ‘culture of waste,’” he said.
Human Rights and ‘Ideological Colonization’
Continuing his address, Pope Francis also stressed the importance of place all people at the center of the UN activities, saying that integral human development and the full exercise of human development must be “built up and allowed to unfold” for each individual and family.
He also stressed that the right to education especially for young girls who are often excluded, must be respected and reinforced.
The 78 year old Pontiff called on government leaders to ensure the proper support for families, namely: lodging, labor and land. Religious freedom, education and civil rights, he said, are also crucial in creating support.
“These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself,” he said.
“The baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for wealth and power, must serve as a summons to a forthright reflection on man: ‘man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature’”
Pope Francis, however, reminded the UN of their duty to recognize ethical limits, warning that promoting the social progress and better standards of life can risk becoming an unattainable illusion or “for carrying out an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.”
War and Arms Trafficking
The Pope also denounced war as the negation of all rights and an assault on the environment.
“If we want true integral human development for all,” he stressed, “we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between peoples.”
Calling for the transparent application of the UN Charter, the Holy Father warned that a “Pandora’s Box is opened” when it is ignored. This particularly applies to the proliferation of arms and weapons of mass destructions.
“There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons,” he said.
The Pope also lauded the recent nuclear agreement with Iran, saying that it was proof “of the potential of political good will and of law.”
“I express my hope that this agreement will be lasting and efficacious, and bring forth the desired fruits with the cooperation of all the parties involved,” he said.
However, the Pope also appealed for the current conflicts in the Middle East and Africa where Christians, minority religions, cultural and ethnic groups are made to witness the destruction of their “places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement.”
The Jesuit Pope also recalled the conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region.
“In wars and conflicts there are individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die. Human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements.”
Sacredness of Life
Finally, the Pope rounded out his address defending the fundamental right to life in all stages of development.
He called for respect for the sacredness of every human life: “of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the sick, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic.”
The Argentine Pope cited the words of his predecessor Blessed Paul VI, saying that such an understanding of respect for life calls for a higher degree of wisdom for the respectful use of creation for the common good.
Concluding his address, Pope Francis said that United Nations, like any human endeavor, “can be improved yet it remains necessary.”
“I pray to Almighty God that this will be the case, and I assure you of my support and my prayers, and the support and prayers of all the faithful of the Catholic Church, that this Institution, all its member States, and each of its officials, will always render an effective service to mankind, a service respectful of diversity and capable of bringing out, for sake of the common good, the best in each people and in every individual,” he concluded.