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Pope Francis arrives to speak at the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2015 at the United Nations in New York. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
I want to share a few highlights from the text. I do this in the light of the issues outlined in our congregational direction statement. I quote
“We felt the movement of the Spirit impelling us to respond with even greater urgency to the cry of our wounded world.
As mission partners (lay and sisters), we struggled to find a way to address global issues. We identified the most pressing needs of today as poverty, human trafficking, forced migration, refugees, gender inequality, violence towards women and children and religious intolerance. In our dialogue, our charism and internationality united us in a profound way.
We explored with fresh enthusiasm spirituality which nourishes our relationship with God and challenges us to:
- See and hear the good news of Jesus through the eyes and ears of those who are oppressed and calling us to respond in radically new ways;
- To recognize our inter-connectedness with the whole of creation which obliges us to “protect our common home”. (Laudato Si)”
Pope Francis in his person, his words and actions is responding to the cry of our wounded world. He is a ‘person centered’ inclusive Pope making contact with people whenever possible, serving lunch to people who are homeless, visiting in neighborhoods experiencing marginalization and poverty, visiting prisoners and having his car stopped to personally greet, embrace, and pray with persons differently abled. His actions – carrying his own bag, driving in a small fiat car, getting up from his chair, and going down steps to greet people are all symbolic actions giving witness to his words and the dignity of the person.
His words are strong as to the causes of woundedness in the world – “unrestrained ambition and collective forms of selfishness” that threatens the planet and excludes more and more people. Pope Francis did recognize the achievements of the United Nations over the past seventy years “as lights which dispel the darkness”. He called for reform of the Security Council, and the Financial Agencies so that all member states have “a genuine and equitable influence on, decision making processes”. Pope Francis urged International Financial Agencies to care for the sustainable development of countries and to ensure that countries are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which subject people to greater poverty, exclusion and dependence. The issues of debt and usury are systemic issues. Jubliee, USA continually address them. Read more here
Pope Francis said that a true “right of the environment” exists. Further, misuse and destruction of the environment are accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. I was reminded of our ministry in Kolwezi, in the DRC. Pope Francis continued that a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged. This can happen for a number of reasons
- because they are differently abled, or
- because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or
- because they are incapable of decisive political action.
Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of ‘human dignity’ (my words) and an offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from offenses, for three serious reasons:
- they are cast off by society,
- forced to live off what is discarded and
- suffer unjustly from the abuses of the environments.
They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”. This is in stark contrast to our oft quoted phrase “a person is of more value than the world” that informs all our ministry and activism throughout the world.
Pope Francis said that 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
- and ending as quickly as possible social and economic exclusion, with its consequences;
- human trafficking,
- the marketing of human organs and tissues,
- the sexual exploitation of boys and girls,
- slave labour, including
- the drug and weapons trade,
- terrorism and
- international organized crime.
This list has echoes of the list in the Congregational Direction Statement. While Pope Francis did not mention gender inequality and violence against women and children it is implied throughout and the specific violence of sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labour, prostitution, drugs and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime all impact, wound and enslave girls and women.
Pope Francis while often using the words poor or poorest reiterated at least on two occasions that it must never be forgotten … 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. And for the phrase at the end of the next sentence – this is a gem. ‘To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny.’ Imagine girls and women ‘dignified agents of their own destiny’. I am immediately brought to the words of Philip Pinto and recorded in our direction statement “Transformational leadership is a way of being leaders arising out of the depths of the wisdom within each of us, a wisdom that allows others the space and opportunity to transform their own lives. The only leadership that is worth the name is spiritual leadership”.
I was thrilled when Pope Francis named girls when he referring to the right to education as a way of becoming ‘a dignified agent of one’s own destiny’. Pope Francis named the absolute minimum needed to live in dignity – lodgings, labour, land and spiritual freedom which includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights. This absolute minimum has another name Social Protection Floors which Good Shepherds has been promoting over the past few years. Establishing national floors of social protection ensures a minimum standard of living of all people.
Pope Francis reiterated the minimum standards
- dignified and properly remunerated employment
- adequate food and drinking water
- religious freedom – spiritual freedom and education
These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life!
Pope Francis quoted from Laudato Si in referring to the ecological crisis. He issued a sort of warning to Member States quoting from the Charter of the United Nation that the ideal of “saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and “promoting social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” risks becoming an unattainable illusion, or idle chatter which serves as a cover for all kinds of abuse and corruption.
Pope Francis continued to make connections between people and planet saying “war is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment”. He called member states to uphold the rule of law and to have recourse to tireless negotiation, mediation and arbitration. This is a call to us Good Shepherds to engage in advocacy at national level, seeking implementation of international standards and reporting where we can e.g. Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and, other human right mechanism on implementation or lack thereof.
Pope Francis confronted directly the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the Charter of the United Nations which desires peace, seeks solutions to disputes and the development of friendly relations between nations. Pope Francis called for the full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.
Pope Francis addressed the situation in the Middle East and North Africa noting “the negative effects of military and political interventions which are not coordinated between members of the international community”. Pope Francis mentioned specifically Christians, “together with other cultural and ethnic groups and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, and have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and peace by their own lives, or enslavement.”
Again for the third time Pope Francis uses the word ‘real’ when he says that real human being take precedence over partisan interests. In wars and conflicts it is individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls, who weep, suffer and die.
At our Congregational Chapter we made a declaration in solidarity with our Sisters and Mission Partners in Lebanon and Syria which calls on our respective Governments (74 countries) is to:
- Stop selling arms to warring faction
- Let go of self interest in the Middle East
- Stop the terrorists groups from entering Syria through the Turkey/Jordan/Iraq borders
- Enter into peaceful dialogue for resolution
The words of Pope Francis’s address to the United Nations are embedded in our simple yet direct demands to our respective Governments. Pope Francis ended his address saying that the United Nations can be a pledge of a secure and happy future for future generations if the representatives of the States can set aside partisan and ideological interests and sincerely strive to serve the common good.