NEW YORK (Sept. 25, 2015) — In a sweeping address to the United Nations on Friday, Pope Francis presented himself as a champion of the poor and dispossessed, urging world leaders to adopt concrete ways to combat war, widespread poverty and economic destruction.
Francis, who is in New York as part of a weeklong visit to the United States, is the fifth pope to address the United Nations, and his speech followed a familiar papal formula.
First, the Pope laid out his moral vision for a more just world, arguing for a series of “sacred rights,” including labor, land and lodging.
Secondly, he listed the most pressing problems facing humanity, adopting the urgent tone of a disappointed prophet.
And finally, Francis offered some suggestions for world leaders to consider as they look for solutions to those problems.
Here’s what the Pope thinks is wrong with the world:
Powerful elites rule the world
Poor countries don’t have a real presence in the United Nations, and poor people don’t have a voice in international aid programs and projects, the Pope said.
“To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty,” he said, “we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny.”
Talk, talk, talk.
World leaders seem not to realize that while they hedge and debate, real people are suffering, Francis said. When they finally do find a solution, it is often imposed without thought to local realities.
“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,” he said, “human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements.”
Using the United Nations for ill
While praising the U.N. as an important instrument for good, the Pope also noted that certain unnamed countries have been able to manipulate the international body, using it “to mask spurious ends.”
When the U.N. charter “is considered simply as an instrument to be used whenever it proves favorable, and to be avoided when it is not,” Francis said, “a true Pandora’s box is opened, releasing uncontrollable forces which gravely harm defenseless populations, the cultural milieu and even the biological environment.”
‘United by fear and distrust’
Nuclear weapons are poor instruments of peace, the Pope said, frankly denouncing the idea that that no one will use the bomb if everyone has them.
“An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction — and possibly the destruction of all mankind,” he said, “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.”
No checks, no balances
World leaders can draw up all the treaties and programs they want, the Pope said. But if there are no effective ways of enforcing decisions, they remain useless white papers.
“The number and complexity of the problems require that we possess technical instruments of verification,” Francis said.
But even those “instruments” can become ineffective bureaucratic mazes in which real solutions recede into a hazy horizon, he said.
“We cannot permit ourselves to postpone ‘certain agendas’ for the future,” the Pope said. “The future demands of us critical and global decisions in the face of worldwide conflicts which increase the number of the excluded and those in need.”