By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
This year marks a special anniversary for the UN—it is the seventy-fifth year from the signing of the UN Charter in San Francisco in 1945. On Monday, representatives of the Member States gathered in a high-level event to commemorate the anniversary, with other activities scheduled throughout the week.
With the Covid-19 health crisis still limiting global movement, participation at the event was mostly virtual as world leaders sent in pre-recorded video messages. The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin also addressed the General Assembly via a video message on Monday.
Pope Francis to the UN
Pope Francis, on Friday addressed the representatives of the 193-member world body. In a video message, the Pope appealed for a joint commitment towards a better future through multilateralism and collaboration among states.
He also noted that this 75th anniversary is a fitting occasion to express the Holy See’s desire that the organization serves “as a sign of unity between States and an instrument of service to the entire human family.”
Choose what matters
As the world continues to face challenges stemming from the deadly coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis highlights that the ongoing crisis has exposed our human fragility and has called into question our economic, health and social systems. More so, it has brought to the fore the need to realize the right of every person to basic health care.
Reiterating his reflections during the Extraordinary Moment of Prayer on 27 March, Pope Francis said the pandemic calls us to seize this time of trial to “choose what matters and what passes away,” and “separate what is necessary from what is not.” He urged that we choose the path that leads to the consolidation of multilateralism, global responsibility, peace and inclusion of the poor.
The current crisis, the Pope notes, shows us that solidarity cannot be “an empty word or promise.” It also shows us “the importance of avoiding every temptation to exceed our natural limits.” In this regard, the Pope considers the effect of the pandemic on the labour market driven by an increasing robotization and artificial intelligence (AI), and stressed the need for “new forms of work that are truly capable of satisfying human potential while affirming our dignity.”
To ensure this, the Pope proposes “a change of direction” that involves a more robust ethical framework capable of overcoming “today’s widespread and quietly growing culture of waste.” He called for a change in the dominant economic paradigm which aims only to expand profit. At the same time, he urged businesses to make offering jobs to more people one of their main objectives.
The culture of waste
Pope Francis points out that at the origin of the culture of waste, there is a “gross lack of respect for human dignity, the promotion of ideologies with reductive understandings of the human person, a denial of the universality of fundamental human rights and a craving for absolute power and control.” These, he states, are “an attack against humanity itself.”
The Pope laments the many violations of fundamental human rights that “offer us a frightening picture of a humanity abused, wounded, deprived of dignity, freedom and hope for the future.” The Pope characterises as "intolerable, yet intentionally ignored by many", the instances of religious persecution, humanitarian crises, the use of weapons of mass destruction, internal displacement, human trafficking and forced labor, and the "great numbers of people being forced to leave their homes".
The Pope notes that international efforts to respond to crises begin with great promise but many subsequently fail due to a lack of the political support necessary to succeed or “because individual states shirk their responsibilities and commitments.” To combat this, he is appealing to the international community to ensure that institutions are truly effective in the struggle against these challenges and reiterated the Holy See’s commitment to playing its part to help the situation.
In responding to the inequalities between the rich and the poor, Pope Francis proposes a reconsideration of the role of economic and financial institutions. He recommends an economic model that “encourages subsidiarity, supports economic development at the local level, and invests in education and infrastructure benefitting local communities.” He also calls on the international community to put an end to economic injustices through greater fiscal responsibility among nations and “an effective promotion of the poorest” including offering assistance to poorer and highly-indebted nations.
Children particularly affected by Covid-19
The Pope goes on to highlight the devastating effects of the Covid-19 crisis on children, including unaccompanied migrants and refugees, pointing out that instances of child abuse and violence have seen an increase. Calling on civil authorities, Pope Francis urges them to be “especially attentive to children who are denied their fundamental rights and dignity, particularly their right to life and to schooling.”
Turning his thoughts toward the family, he laments the weakening of the “natural and fundamental group unit of society” by ideological colonialism which produces a feeling of “lacking roots” in its members. He also spoke for the advancement of women, pointing out that at every level of society, women now play an important role and offer their contribution towards the promotion of the common good.
Peace, not warfare
Pope Francis talks of the "need to break with the present climate of distrust" marked by the erosion of multilateralism and the development of new forms of military technology which irreversibly alter the nature of warfare. In particular, he singles out nuclear deterrence which “creates an ethos of fear based on the threat of mutual annihilation” and calls for dismantling the perverse logic that links security to the possession of weaponry while generating profit for the arms industry. On this front, he calls for increased support for the principal international and legal instruments on nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and prohibition.
“We never emerge from a crisis just as we were. We come out either better or worse,” Pope Francis affirmed.
He also adds that the present crisis has demonstrated the limits of our self-sufficiency as well as our common vulnerability. It has also shown that “we cannot live without one another, or worse still, pitted against one another.” Therefore, at this critical juncture, “it is our duty to rethink the future of our common home and our common project” by strengthening multilateralism and cooperation between states.
Concluding, Pope Francis emphasizes that the UN was established to bring nations together. Therefore, the institution should be used to “transform the challenge that lies before us into an opportunity to build together, once more, the future we all desire.”