Whether they are dealing with war, development, the economy or environmental concerns, bureaucrats and diplomats must always remember that the lives of real children, women and men are at stake, Pope Francis told the United Nations. Helping to celebrate the organization’s 70th anniversary, Pope Francis visited its headquarters on Sept. 25 and pleaded with government leaders and U.N. officials to keep the dignity and sacredness of every human life and the value of all creatures at the center of their concern.
“Above and beyond our plans and programs,” he told the U.N. General Assembly, “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.”
Advocates in global relief and development, debt relief and nuclear abolition were among the many cheered by Pope Francis’ address. “The Holy Father’s U.N. speech raised the bar again for political and economic leaders: we must prevent the exclusion, inequality and war that Catholic Relief Services is responding to in so many countries,” said Bill O’Keefe, C.R.S.’s vice president for government relations and advocacy.
In his address, Pope Francis supported the new global 15-year Sustainable Development Goals, O’Keefe said, “but reminded us all that success must be judged by the simple reality of whether real people have housing, food, education and the basic rights entitled to all as creatures of God.”
Pope Francis called for real, concrete action to stem climate change; respect for every human life and for “the natural difference between man and woman”; economic decisions that place the needs of people before profits. He challenged the moral legitimacy of nuclear deterrence and called for the elimination of nuclear weapons.
He praised recent international agreements with Iran and pleaded for concrete, multilateral efforts to bring peace and justice to the Middle East, North Africa and other African countries plagued by the violence of extremists claiming to act in the name of Islam. “Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly,” he said, “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 to peace by their own lives or by enslavement.”
Those lives, he said, “take precedence over partisan interests.”
“In wars and conflicts there are individual persons—our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls—who weep, suffer and die,” the pope said. They are treated as “human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements.