The destruction of the environment that contributes to the culture of waste. The protection of those most in difficulty against human trafficking, sex commerce, organ trafficking, and labor exploitation. The indiscriminate trade of weapons, drugs and other international crimes. The necessity to establish fundamental human rights such as a decent job, a house, food, education, and to freely profess one’s religious belief. And, finally, the urgent need to move from words to facts, escaping from the temptation of hypocrisy, “symbolic nominalism with an appeasing effect on our conscience”, the fifth, the strongest slap in the face of the most powerful of the Earth who were listening to the Pope during his historic speech at the United Nations. Seventy years after their creation, many goals have been achieved only in an ideal world. Too much chatter, to put it in simple words which the Pontiff likes a lot. Bergoglio asked implicitly the whole world what purpose it serves “to draw up long enumerations of good intentions” if concretely they do not solve anything. This way, the noble principle of “universal brotherhood” remains only a chimera.
He used the term “concrete” for several times during his speech. And its concreteness and promptly asked world leaders to take to care for the Earth and all the wounded men. Then he attacked the power of technology and of the financial institutions that are capable of generating “terrible atrocities” and produce greater poverty, exclusion, and dependency. Then, there is yet another risk: to have on the one hand “many false rights”, while on the other, “large areas without protection, victims rather to a bad exercise of power: the natural environment and the vast world of excluded men and women”. The defense of the created and the fight against inequalities represent for the Pope “taken from the end of the world” two essential aspects that are closely linked.
Among the plagues of humanity he enumerated trafficking of human beings, trade of human organs and tissues, sexual exploitation of children and young girls, forced work including prostitution, drugs and organ trafficking, terrorism and international organized crime; not the least of which is the evil of “social fragmentation” in a society only apparently interconnected. A few hours after his participation at the world meeting in Philadelphia, he defended the family, the primary cell of any social development, supporting the right to education and religious freedom of every man.
At the same time he stressed that “the defense of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand the recognition of a moral law written in human nature itself, which includes the natural distinction between man and woman, and the absolute respect for human life in all its stages and sizes”. Human life is sacred and so is that of the poor, the elderly, children, the sick, not born yet, unemployed, abandoned and those who are judged as possible to reject. He directed a thought to the painful situation in the whole Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, mentioning also other scenarios of conflict, such as Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, southern Sudan and the Great Lakes region.
“Once again – began Francesco – following a tradition of which I am very honored, the General Secretary of the United Nations invited the Pope to address this honorable Assembly of nations. On my own behalf and on behalf of the entire Catholic community, Mr Ban Ki-moon, I express the most sincere and heartfelt gratitude; I would also like to thank you for your kind words. Moreover, I greet the Heads of State and Government who are present here, the Ambassadors, diplomats and the political and technical officials who came with them, the United Nations personnel involved in this 70th Session of the General Assembly, the staff of all programs and agencies of the family of the UN and all those who, one way or another, are involved in this meeting. Through you, I greet also the citizens of all nations represented at this meeting. Thank you for the efforts of everyone for the good of humanity”.
This is the fifth time a Pope visits the United Nations. “My predecessors did it: Pope Paul VI in 1965 and Pope John Paul II in 1979 and in 1995, and my immediate predecessor, now emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, in 2008. All of them expressed their appreciation for the organization and regarded it as the juridic and political response appropriate for this moment in history, characterized by crossing distances and borders with the help of technology and, apparently, of any natural limit to the establishment of power. A response that was unavoidable considering the fact that the power of technology in the hands of nationalistic or falsely universalistic ideologies, is capable of producing terrible atrocities. I can only echo the appreciation of my predecessors, reaffirming the importance recognized by the Catholic Church to this institution and of the hope it reposes in its activities”.
The history of the organized community of the Sates, represented by the United Nations, which celebrates its 70th anniversary, he stressed that “it is a history of important joint accomplishments, in a period of an unusual acceleration of the events. Without claiming to be exhaustive, we may mention the codification and the development of international law, the construction of the international law for human rights, the improvement of humanitarian law, the solution of many conflicts and operations of peace and reconciliation, and many other acquisitions in all sectors of the international projection of human activities. All those achievements are lights that contrast the darkness of the disorder caused by uncontrolled ambitions and collective egotisms. It is certain, although there are many serious unsolved problems, however, it is evident that without all that international activity, humanity could not have survived the uncontrolled use of its own potential. Each one of those political, legal, and technical progresses represents a path of realization of the ideal of human brotherhood and a means for its greatest embodiment”.
The Holy Father has therefore wanted to pay homage to all the men and women who have served with loyalty and sacrifice, the entire humanity in those 70 years. In particular, I would like to mention now those who have given their lives for peace and reconciliation among peoples, from Dag Hammarskjöld up to many officials of every level, who lost their lives in humanitarian missions of peace and reconciliation”.
The experience of those 70 years, on top of everything that has been achieved, he remarked, “shows that reforms and adaptation to times are always necessary, progressing toward the ultimate goal of granting all countries, without exception, a participation and a real and equal impact on the decisions. This need for greater equity, especially true in the organs with actual executive capacity, such as the Security Council, the financial institutions and groups or mechanisms specifically created to address economic crises. This will help to limit any kind of abuse or exploitation, especially in relation to the developing countries”. The international financial institutions, he pointed out, “must be vigilant in the field of sustainable development of the countries and to avoid the suffocating oppression of those countries to the credit systems that, far from promoting progress, constrain populations to mechanisms that lead to greater poverty, exclusion, and dependence”.
The task of the United Nations, starting with the postulates in the Preamble and with the first articles of his constitution “can be seen as the development and promotion of the sovereignty of the law, knowing that justice is a necessary requirement for achieving the ideal of universal brotherhood. In this context, it should be remembered that the limitation of power is an idea inscribed in concept of law itself. Giving to everyone their share, according to the classic definition of justice, means that no individual or group of human beings can be considered almighty, authorized to trample on the dignity and rights of other individuals or social groups. The distribution of power (political, economic, military, technological, etc.) between a plurality of subjects and the creation of a legal system of regulation of the claims and interests, apply the limitation of power”. Today the world presents us, however, many false rights, and – at the same time – large areas without protection, added the bishop of Rome, “victims of a bad exercise of power: the environment and the vast world of excluded men and women. Two areas that are intimately interconnected, and which have been transformed by the predominant political and economic relations into fragile parts of reality. For this reason it is necessary to impose their rights with determination, by consolidating the protection of the environment and by putting an end to exclusion”.
First of all, we need to affirm, insisted, that there is a true “right of the environment” for two reasons. In the first place because as human beings we are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, because the environment itself involves ethical boundaries that human action should recognize and respect. Humanity, even when it has “capabilities never seen before” that “show a singularity which transcends the physical and biological scope” (Enc. Praised be, 81), is, at the same time, a portion of that environment. “He has a body formed of physical, chemical, and biological elements, and can survive and develop only if the environment is favorable”. Any damage to the environment, therefore, it is a damage to humanity. “Secondly, because every creature, especially living beings, has a value in itself: of existence, life, beauty, and of interdependence with other creatures. We, Christians, together with other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe comes from the Creator’s decision of love, that allows us to dispose respectfully of the Created for the good of his like, and for the glory of the Creator, but without abusing it, much less being authorized to destroy it. For all the religious beliefs the environment is a fundamental good (ibid., 81)”.
Abuse and destruction of the environment, at the same time, are associated with an unstoppable process of exclusion. In fact, a selfish desire of unlimited power and material well-being, leads both to abuse of the material means available to us, as well as to the exclusion of the weak and the less able, both in the sense of having differing abilities (handicapped), and because they lack knowledge and adequate technical tools or have insufficient ability to take political decisions. Economic and social exclusion and a complete denial of human brotherhood are a serious attack on human rights and on the environment. The poorest suffer the most from those attacks for three serious reasons: they are discarded by society, and at the same time forced to live on waste and must suffer unjustly the consequences of the abuse of the environment. These phenomena constitute at present the widespread and unawarely consolidated “discard culture”.
The drama of this situation of exclusion and inequities, with its obvious consequences, “leads me, along with the whole Christian people and many others, to be aware of my serious responsibilities in this regard, for which I raise my voice, together with that of all who aspire urgent and effective solutions”. The adoption of the “Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development” during the World Summit that begins today, is an important sign of hope. “I hope also that the Paris Conference on climate change will reach fundamental and effective agreements”.
Do not suffice, however, solemnly made commitments, even when they are a necessary step towards solving the problems. “The classic definition of justice to which I have referred before – has added Bergoglio – contains as an essential element one constant and perpetual desire: Iustitia est constans et perpetua’s voluntas ordinata ius suum tribuendi“. The world urges all the governments “an effective, practical, and constant desire, made of concrete and immediate measures to preserve and improve the natural environment and defeat as soon as the phenomenon of the social and economic exclusion, along with all its sad consequences”. Such is the magnitude of those situations and the number of innocent lives involved, that we must avoid any temptation to fall into a symbolic nominalism with an appeasing effect on your conscience. We must make sure that our institutions become really effective in the fight against all those scourges.
The multiplicity and the complexity of the problems requires the use of technical tools for measurement. “This, however, entails a twofold danger: to stay confined in the bureaucratic exercise of drawing up long enumerations of good intentions – goals, objectives and statistical indicators -, or believe that a single theoretical and aprioristic solution will answer all the challenges. We must not lose sight of, at any time, the fact that the political and economic action, is effective only when it is conceived as a prudential activities, guided by a perennial concept of justice and which is always mindful that, before and beyond plans and programs, there are real women and men, equal to the rulers, who live and struggle and suffer, and that many times they are forced to live miserably, deprived of any right”.
To make sure that those real men and women will escape extreme poverty, we must allow them to be worthy actors of their own destiny. Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. But “they must be constructed and implemented by everyone, from each family, in communion with other human beings and in a right relationship with all the environments in which develops human sociality – friends, communities, villages and municipalities, schools, businesses and trade unions, provinces, nations, etc. This presupposes and requires the right to education – even for the girls (precluded from it in some places) – which is primarily responsible for respecting and enhancing the primary right of the family to educate and the right of the Churches and other social aggregations to support and collaborate with families in the education of their daughters and their children. Education conceived this way, is at the basis of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the rehabilitation of the environment”.
At the same time, the government should its best in order to ensure that “everyone has the minimum required material and spiritual wellbeing, to make their dignity real and to form and maintain a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. This absolute minimum, on a material level has three names: home, work, and land; and a name on a spiritual level: freedom of the spirit, that includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights”.
For all those reasons, the measure and the simplest indicator and proper fulfillment of the new Development Agenda “will be the effective access, practical and immediate, for everyone to the the indispensable spiritual and material goods: having a home, a decent and duly remunerated work, adequate nutrition and drinking water; religious freedom and, more generally, freedom of the spirit and education. At the same time, those pillars of human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life, and, in a wider sense, what might be called the right to existence in the human nature itself “.
The ecological crisis, together with the destruction of much of the biodiversity, “may endanger the very existence of the human species.” The malicious consequences of the irresponsible mismanagement of the world economy, driven solely by ambition of profit of power, should constitute a call to a severe reflection on humankind: “Man is not created out of nothing. It is spirit and will, but also nature” (Benedict XVI, Address to the Parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany, September 22, 2011; cited in Enc. Praised yes, 6). Creation is affected “when we ourselves are the last resort […]. And the waste of the creation begins when we no longer recognize any need beyond our own, but see only ourselves” (Id., Meeting with the Clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone, Aug. 6, 2008, cited ibid.). Therefore, “the defense of the environment and the fight against exclusion require the recognition of a moral law inscribed in human nature itself, which includes the natural distinction between man and woman (cf.. Praised yes, 155) and the absolute respect of life in all its stages and dimensions (cf. ibid., 123; 136)”.
Without the recognition of certain insurmountable ethical limits of nature and without the immediate implementation of those pillars of integral human development, the ideal of “save the future generations from the scourge of war” (Charter of the United Nations, Preamble) and “promote social progress and a higher standard of living in more freedom “(ibid.) run the risk of becoming an unattainable mirage or even worse, empty words that serve as an excuse for any abuse and corruption, and to promote ideological colonization by imposing abnormal patterns and lifestyles which are alien to the identity of the peoples and which are ultimately irresponsible.
War, in this scenario, “is the denial of all rights and a dramatic aggression o the environment. If you want an authentic integral human development for everyone, we must keep working tirelessly on the task of avoiding war between nations and peoples. “To this end, we must guarantee the absolute dominion “of law and the tireless resort to negotiation, good offices and arbitration, as proposed by the United Nations Charter, real fundamental rule of law.” The experience of 70 years of existence of the United Nations in general and in particular the experience of the first 15 years of the third millennium, show both the effectiveness of the full implementation of international standards as the ineffectiveness of their failure to comply. If you respect and apply the UN Charter “with transparency and sincerity, without hidden interests, as an obligatory point of reference for justice and not as a tool to mask ambiguous intentions, you will obtain peace.” When, on the contrary, law is mistaken for a simple tool to be applied when it is convenient and to be eluded when it is not, you open a true Pandora’s box of uncontrollable forces, which seriously damages people who are defenseless, as well as the cultural and the biological environment.
The preamble and the first article of the Charter of the United Nations indicate the foundations of the international legal construction: peace, the peaceful settlement of disputes and the development of friendly relations between the nations. “Contrasts strongly with those statements, and denies them in practice, the always present tendency to the proliferation of weapons, especially those of mass destruction such as nuclear weapons. Ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and potentially that of the entire humanity – are contradictory and are a fraud to the whole construction of the United Nations, which would become ‘Nations United by fear and mistrust’. We must work hard for a world without nuclear weapons and apply fully the Non-Proliferation Treaty, literally and in spirit, for a total ban on those tool”.
The recent agreement on the nuclear problem in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East, said the Pope with satisfaction, “is a proof of the possibility of political goodwill and of the right, cultivated with sincerity, patience and perseverance. I pray for this agreement to be lasting and effective and give the desired results with the cooperation of all parties involved”.
To this regard, there is serious evidence of the negative consequences of political and military interventions which was not coordinated by the members of the international community. “Therefore, – he said – although I would have preferred not to have to do so, I must reiterate my repeated appeals in relation to the painful situation in the Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where Christians, along with other ethnic or cultural groups, and also with the members of the religious majority that does not want to get involved in hatred and madness, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their homes and belongings and were given the alternative to escape or pay their adhesion to goodness and peace with their lives or with slavery”.
Those situations must be a serious call to search their souls for those who are responsible for international affairs. “Not only in cases of religious or cultural persecution, but in any situation of conflict, such as in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region, before party interests, although legitimate, must come real faces. In wars and conflicts there are people, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die. Human beings that become waste material whereas nothing is done but enumerating problems, strategies and discussions”.
“As I have asked the General Secretary of the United Nations in my letter dating back to August 9, 2014,”basic understanding of human dignity [requires] the international community, in particular through the rules and mechanisms of international law, to do all that lies within their power in order to stop and prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities and to protect innocent people.”
In the same spirit, the Pope wanted to mention another type of conflict, which is not always explicit, but which provokes silently the death of millions of people. “Many societies are experiencing a different kind of war, the phenomenon of drugs trafficking. A war that is being feebly fought. Drugs trafficking by its very nature is accompanied with trafficking in persons, money laundering, arms trafficking, child exploitation and other forms of corruption. Corruption that has reached different levels of social, political, military, religious and artistic, life creating, in many cases, a parallel structure which threatens the credibility of our institutions”.
Bergoglio expressed the hope that his words are a continuation of the final words of the speech of Paul VI, pronounced almost 50 years ago, but of everlasting value. “It is the time when a brake is needed, a moment of silence, of reflection, almost of prayer: that is, to think back to our common origin, our history, our common destiny. Never before […] it was necessary to appeal to the moral conscience of the Man [because] danger does not come from progress nor from science: these, if used the proper way, can solve many of the serious problems that are afflicting humanity “(Address to Representatives, October 4, 1965). Among other things, no doubt, human genius, if applied well, will help solve serious challenges of environmental degradation and exclusion. I continue with Paul VI’s words: “The real danger comes from Man, master of increasingly powerful tool used for destruction and for the highest achievements.”
The common home of all people must “continue to arise from a correct understanding of universal brotherhood and from the respect of the sanctity of every human life, each man and each woman; the poor, the elderly, children, the sick, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those who are judged as suitable to be discarded because they are considered nothing more than statistic numbers. The common home of all people must also be built on an understanding of a certain sacredness of the created nature.
Such understanding and respect require a higher degree of wisdom which “accepts transcendence, renounces the construction of a powerful elite and understands that the full meaning of individual and collective life is in selfless service to the others and in the prudent and respectful use of the created, for the common good. Repeating the words of Paul VI, “the edifice of modern civilization must be founded on spiritual principles, able not only to support, but also to illuminate and animate it”.
Yet another time, the Pope referred to his origins in order to affirm an important principle. “Gaucho Martin Fierro, a classic in the literature of my native land, sings: ‘Brothers must be united because this is the first law. Have a real union at any time, because if they fight one with another, they are going to be devoured by those from the outside ‘. Contemporary world, apparently connected, experiences a growing, consistent and continuous social fragmentation that endangers “all the foundations of social life” and thus “ends up sowing conflicts between us in order to defend our own interests” (Enc. Praised yes , 229). The present time calls us to focus on actions that can generate new activities in society and that will give results in important and positive historical events (cf. ibid., N. Evangelii Gaudium, 223). We cannot afford to put off “some agendas” for the future. The future calls for critical decisions in front of global and world wars that increase the number of the excluded and of the needy”.
The praiseworthy international legal construction of the United Nations and all its achievements, that can be improved as any other human creation, but are, at the same time, necessary, “can be a pledge of a safe and happy future for the next generations”. They will be so if the representatives of the States set aside sectorial interests and ideologies and sincerely seek to serve the common good. “I ask the Almighty for this to happen, – he concluded – and I guarantee you my support, my prayer and the support and prayers of all the faithful of the Catholic Church, so that this institution, all its Member States and each one of its officers, always make an effective service to humanity, a service that respects diversity and that can potentiate, in view of the common good, the best of every nation and of every citizen. “God’s blessing, peace, and prosperity to all of you and to all your people”.