Tent cities persist in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, more than five years after a devastating earthquake. (CNS photo/Oscar Leiva, Catholic Relief Services)

Development and Peace Advocates Respond to UN Address by Pope Francis

Advocates in global relief and development, debt relief and nuclear abolition were among the many cheered this morning by Pope’s Francis sermon before the mount of global power at the United Nations.

“The pope ends his speech with a call for new processes which call forth the best in people as individuals, as communities and as one human family,” said Carolyn Woo, President, Catholic Relief Services, after watching the address. “These processes recognize the sacredness of everyone and of God’s creation. They are processes of hope that cast a vote for the genius of people who care for each other, who overcome their fear with love and journey forth in action with the courage that comes from a sense of the transcendent.”

“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, Vice President for Government Relations and Advocacy.

In his address, Pope Francis supported the new 15-year global 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.”

O’Keefe adds, “The Holy Father sharpened his analysis of how care for the environment and care for humanity, especially the poor, are intricately linked. This is certainly the experience of Catholic Relief Services when environmental destruction and impacts of climate change destroy the livelihoods of innocent people in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.”

In a statement released today, Pax Christi USA officials noted the “eloquent, simple and direct words of Pope Francis” at the United Nations, “about peace through non-violence, resistance to systems that exclude, innate human rights of all people and restoring the global climate to a level where all people can thrive and not merely exist.

“Of particular interest to us were the concrete suggestions he offered,” the statement continued. “It is not enough to have dreams for peace with justice, but we must match those dreams with specific actions for justice that will be effective and practical for the good of all people. We commend his courage as well as the challenge and the support he has given to our movement.”

Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of the Jubilee USA Network, advocates for international debt relief, was heartened by the pope’s call to responsibly address the global financial crisis and the handling of worldwide debt. “The pope just called for responsible lending policies to benefit the poorest and most vulnerable. He’s connecting the failure of austerity and reckless lending policies to poverty and plight.” According to LeCompte, Pope Francis told the United Nations “that they have a responsibility to use their agencies to solve the debt crisis. This comes on the heels of his endorsement of a UN bankruptcy process this summer.

“It’s amazing to see Pope Francis talk about responsibility of creditors. He even referenced what was formally a sin in the Catholic Church: usury.”

Caritas Internationals secretary general Michel Roy called the address “an invitation to us all to change the way in which we see this world…. The Pope spoke of many of the issues which are close to the hearts of Caritas organizations around the world such as war, trafficking, climate change, education, prostitution, injustice and human rights.

His message was clear, said Roy. “The United Nations is more necessary now than ever…however, the pope also criticised the member nations who take what they want when it pleases them but don’t pay their dues to improving the future of humanity and emphasised the need for action, not just declarations.”

The pope, said Roy, “challenges us to assume our joint responsibility and to tackle the consequences of economic and development models where people are expendable.

“More importantly, with his repeated calls to end the culture of waste, he invites us to come together to build something new.”

Noting the pope’s strong condemnation of economic processes that leave out or exploit the vulnerable and damage creation, Bernd Nilles, Secretary General of CIDSE, an European consortium of Catholic relief and development agencies, said, “International leaders must heed the words of the pope. Human rights and the respect of the environment must be central to the implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals agenda and the climate agreement in Paris.

“In this respect, the need for a fair and binding agreement on climate change at the U.N. Summit [in Paris] this December is essential to change course,” said Nilles.

A statement, coordinated by CIDSE and co-signed by more than 50 political decision-makers, writers, activists, faith leaders and civil society representatives, demands greater ambition in tackling social injustices and calls for a new emphasis on notions of well-being, a culture of care and shared prosperity. CIDSE officials say, “As His Holiness has pointed out, there is a ‘need for a radical shift in the political and economic policies in order to meet the needs of the most vulnerable populations in the world.’”

During his address, the pope endorsed the need to work toward the “complete prohibition” of nuclear weapons and seemed to rebut the moral justification for the policy of nuclear deterrence. He said, “An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction—and possibly the destruction of all mankind—are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as ‘nations united by fear and distrust.’”

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons issued a statement welcoming Pope Francis’ endorsement of nuclear weapons abolition. “Nuclear weapons are immoral, unethical and unacceptable weapons,” said ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn. “Governments should respond to the call of the pope and start negotiating a new legal instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.”