By Devin Watkins
The United Nations is holding its 76th General Assembly this week, with heads of state and government convening in New York to discuss the overarching theme: “Building resilience through hope”.
The Vatican, which enjoys permanent observer status at the UN, has participated in the event through representatives and video message for various events.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, sent participants Pope Francis’ greetings in a video message which was released on Sunday morning.
Hope is active
The Cardinal opened his video message with a reflection on the difference between hope and optimism.
Optimism, he noted, is only a passive expectation that things will get better, while hope requires us to make an active response to resolve the many problems facing the world.
“Hope keeps us motivated when problems and disagreements seem unsolvable, it facilitates forgiveness, conscious that through reconciliation there can be a better future,” he said.
Renewing healthcare systems
Cardinal Parolin then touched on the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the need to emerge with a “renewed sense of fraternal solidarity.”
The pandemic has shown that nations need to review their healthcare systems, which have left many without sufficient care and many in poorer nations without access to life-saving vaccines.
“Even today many have no access to testing, basic care, or vaccines or even to the energy infrastructure that would make such care possible,” he said.
Years of progress ruined
The Vatican Secretary of State also said the world has lost five years of progress on the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals to be met by 2030 due to the coronavirus.
He called on world leaders to rethink economic systems that exploit people and the environment in the name of profit, a topic the upcoming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, will seek to address.
Cardinal Parolin said it is far past time to act to save the earth. “We are compelled to strengthen our ambition,” he said, “since we are presently experiencing the effects of decades of inaction in terms of the extreme flooding, drought, wildfires, melting glaciers, receding shorelines, malnutrition and respiratory diseases that rising temperatures are precipitating.”
War and selfishness
War, continued the Cardinal, has snuffed out the hopes and aspirations of many young people in conflict-ridden parts of the world.
He recalled the recent upheaval in Afghanistan and the continued political tensions in Lebanon and Syria, which remind us that “conflicts press upon peoples and nations.”
And he repeated Pope Francis’ and the UN Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire.
Chemical weapons, nuclear arms, and other weapons of mass destruction create “an ethos of fear based on mutual annihilation, and poisons relationships between peoples, obstructs dialogue, and undermines hope.”
So-called ‘new rights’
The Pope, added Cardinal Parolin, considers one of the root causes of war and conflict to be “the crisis of human relationships,” which is the result of ways of life dominated by selfishness and a throw-away culture.
He said many people are mistreated, exploited, ignored, or killed as a result of selfishness and disregard for human dignity.
These include refugees and migrants, elderly people, and innocent, unborn children, as well as religious believers who endure harassment or worse on account of their faith.
Cardinal Parolin also spoke against the imposition of “novel interpretations of existing human rights, separated from their underlying universal values.”
“In many cases, ‘new rights’ not only contradict the values they are supposed to support but are imposed despite the absence of any objective foundation or international consensus,” he said. “The Holy See believes that while depriving human rights of their original universal dimension, these new partial interpretations sadly become the ideological benchmark of spurious ‘progress’ and another ground for polarization and division.”
Resilience in fraternity
He said resilience must be built through fraternity, hope, and consensus in international bodies, while defending human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to life, conscience, and religion.
Finally, Cardinal Parolin concluded his address to the 76th UN General Assembly recalling Pope Francis’ words in war-ravaged Iraq earlier this year.
“There will be no peace as long as we see others as them and not us,” said the Pope. “There will be no peace as long as our alliances are against others, for alliances of some against others only increase divisions. Peace does not demand winners or losers, but rather brothers and sisters who, for all the misunderstandings and hurts of the past, are journeying from conflict to unity.”