Pope Francis to the UN : concerted action in service
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations on Friday morning at UN headquarters in New York. Though it was the 5th time a reigning Pontiff addressed the body, it was the first time in history that a Pope has done so during the annual “heads of state and government” session that opens the work of the Assembly each year in the Fall. So, it was another historical first.
Christopher Altieri reports from New York:
Pope Francis’ speech to the UN was, like the other of his addresses, which he has already delivered during the course of this visit, remarkable for its content, tone, and structure: neither shying away from frank recognition of serious problems both within the UN body and in the present order of international affairs, nor striking a scolding or heavily didactic tone, the Holy Father’s address was once again in essence a word of encouragement.
Delivered in Spanish, the Holy Father’s public address followed a private meeting with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon. The Pope’s remarks dealt briefly and efficiently with the protocol of greetings, salutations, anniversary mentions and establishments of historical context. Even when he was going about that necessary work, however, he was already preparing his audience for the real radical labor of thought, in which he engaged and to which he called his audience – which included dozens of heads-of-state and/or government .
The characteristic of Pope Francis’ thinking on display in his UN discourse was its rootedness in the quintessentially Catholic intellectual tension of et-et (both-and), which eschews the straits of dichotomy and explodes the shackles of binary categorization. At perhaps no point was this characteristically Catholic tension in thinking on display, than in Pope Francis’ daring assertion of the natural environment as the subject of proper rights in the created order – rights which demand to be respected in positive law. “First,” said Pope Francis, “a true ‘right of the environment’ does exist,” and he went on to articulate the twofold reason that compels us to recognize the truth of the claim. “We human beings are part of the environment,” he explained. “We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect.”
“Man,” Pope Francis continued, “for all his remarkable gifts, which ‘are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology’ (Laudato Si’, 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres.” Both physical and spiritual: the Greeks knew this and had two words for life – bios and zoé – both of which flow into and out of human nature as constitutive elements. “Second,” he continued to explain, “every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures: we Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it.”
A conviction grounded in reason that is also an article of faith: this is the basic pattern at work – and though it is quintessentially Catholic, there is nothing in this way of thinking that requires an assent of supernatural faith in order to appreciate it, to recognize its merits as a way of thinking, or even to be compelled by the strength of the arguments it allows the one who adopts it to deploy in controversy.
First, last, and always a Pastor, Pope Francis was not telling the members of his audience what to think: he was showing them how, and he was inviting them to think with him – and so with a view to concerted action in service and pursuit of the genuine good. He had their attention because the authority of his office commanded it: he used the opportunity to demonstrate the Church’s expertise in humanity, and of what one can do – what we could do together – if only we were willing to avail ourselves of it.