During his recent visit to the United States, Pope Francis also visited the United Nations in New York (on 25 September 2015) to address the General Assembly at the beginning of the Summit that would adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In an almost hour-long plea for the common good, Pope Francis put many of the most critical global challenges on the table: the use of power and “unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness”; justice and the rule of law; the environment; the many faces of inequality and the “vast ranks of the excluded”; nuclear weapons; and the right to education, to name just a few.
In a room replete with world leaders representing different faiths, cultures, world views, and political agendas, Pope Francis manifested himself as a skilled diplomat. Far from proselytizing or even theologizing, his bottom line was throughout clear: protecting the environment and people (“we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights”). We discard people, he said, if our only response to war and conflict is “to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements,” because our brothers and sisters are “men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die.” And these “real human beings take precedence over partisan interests” – also in international politics.
Pope Francis was equally bold in stating that solemn commitments (he didn’t specify which ones but it was most likely a reference to the MDGs and the SDGs) are not enough, albeit a step in the right direction. “Our world demands of all government leaders a will which is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences.”
As far as I am concerned, Pope Francis, having the ear of the international community, has grabbed his chance to speak out, wake up the world and be a prophetic witness.
Cecile Meijer, rscj