Pope Paul VI's address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York City in 1965 is depicted in a stained-glass window at the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz).

Pope Paul at the United Nations: A Historic Day

This editorial originally appeared in America on October 16, 1965.

In fourteen busy and dramatic hours, on October 4, Pope Paul VI set precedents whose implications we shall be measuring for many months to come. “Today, nobody is mad at anybody,” said one policeman stationed along the route of the papal cortege. Only Albania absented itself from the United Nations on the occasion; outside, only a few nondescript pickets were on hand to voice grievances they felt were related in one way or other to the Pope. The rest was an appealing welcome to an earnest pilgrim for peace.

Who would ever have thought that the Pope of Rome would one day say Mass in Yankee Stadium? Who could conceive that he would exchange ideas on the problems of peace with the President of the United States, in a long interview that was clearly more than a polite “coffee break”? Who, most of all, would have expected that the United Nations would see the Holy Father addressing the representatives of 116 nations?

Before the visit, hard-boiled and practical political observers asked just what the Pope could do, concretely, for peace. The answer is perhaps clearer now. The Pope did not come to tell the world’s statesmen how, or where, or when, or on what points to negotiate their difficulties. He came rather to apply the weight of his own moral and religious influence and tradition toward the accomplishment of the high goals of the world organization—independence and equality of nations, freedom from war and fear of war, freedom from hunger, the right to development according to one’s national or racial or religious needs. And all these positive goals in the light of the war on war—”No more war!” Even the remarks deprecating UN efforts to favor “artificial birth control,” as he put it, were in the context of an appeal for respect for life generally, which is the high ideal of the fight against war and hunger.

The text of this carefully and ably drafted address (which will be published in the forthcoming November issue of Catholic Mind) cannot be adequately digested or commented on in a short space. In months to come, it will inspire not only shapers of opinion and policy-makers but also, in a special manner, American Catholics. The United Nations, for many of our co-religionists in this country, has been at best a distant reality—at worst, beyond the pale. The papal visit should lead to a new focus of thinking in this respect.

Cynics will say that the Pope’s words change nothing in the world situation. Is peace now any closer in Vietnam? Is disarmament now more realizable? Is the East-West tension now dissolving in the flood of lofty phrases that emanated from a respectable but politically impotent prelate? Somehow or other, listeners to Pope Paul’s discourse had the feeling that, as a result of this truly historic event, the United Nations and the cause of peace will indeed experience a renewal.