At the service of the common good

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap

Pope Francis’ address to the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, which took place on September 25, is replete with insights as to how this most distinguished international institution can still be an effective instrument for peace, solidarity and justice among all the world’s nations.

The Holy Father praised the UN for “the codification and development of international law, the establishment of international norms regarding human rights, advances in humanitarian law, the resolution of numerous conflicts, operations of peace-keeping and reconciliation, and any number of other accomplishments in every area of international activity and endeavour”.

However the Pope offered some insights as to how the UN can better fulfill its purpose of being at the service ofthe common good of the human family. First, the UN needs to continually abide by the classic definition ofjustice namely, “to give to each his own”. Such a principle practically means that “no human individual or group can consider itself absolute, permitted to bypass the dignity and the rights of other individuals or their social groupings”.

In order that the international common good is safeguared it is important that UN champions the “right of theenvironment”. Pope Francis explains that this must be so because “first,…  we human beings are part of theenvironment… Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures.” The Pope reminded that “in all religions, the environment is a fundamental good”. Hence no one is permitted to destroy or abuse it.

The Pope helped the UN to reflect that the international common good is guaranteed when exclusion, which “real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights”, is replaced not only by “preserving and improving the natural environment” but also by “enabl[ing] these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty”. To this end the Pope made thefollowing heartfelt appeal to the world government leaders:

“We must allow them [the poor] to be dignified agents of their own destiny. Integral human development andthe full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold for each individual, for every family, in communion with others, and in a right relationship with all those areas in which human social life develops – friends, communities, towns and cities, schools, businesses and unions, provinces, nations, etc. This presupposes and requires the right to education – also for girls (excluded in certain places) – which is ensured first and foremost by respecting and reinforcing the primary right of the family to educate its children, as well as the right of churches and social groups to support and assist families in the education oftheir children. Education conceived in this way is the basis for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and for reclaiming the environment”.

Pope Francis took the opportunity to sensitize government leaders to seriously commit themselves to “support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom,the right to education and other civil rights”. In virtue of his calling as a servant of global morality the Pope reminded the UN Heads of State and Heads of Government, ambassadors, diplomats and political and technical officials that “we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman (cf. Laudato Si’, 155), and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions (cf. ibid., 123, 136).

Since our world is our common home for every man and woman war should be avoided at all costs. The Pope highlighted the need “to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation and arbitration” as the Charter of the United Nations rightly suggests.

Will the UN realize that if it really wants to be at the service of the international common good it needs to be animated by these spiritual principles? Here, humility is urgently called for!

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