Half a century ago, Pope Paul VI addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. It was a moment that poignantly expressed that will for encounter between the Catholic Church and the modern world made manifest by the Council that was closing and on whose behalf the “Roman Pontiff” was for the first time addressing mankind in this manner. It is therefore significant that Pope Francis quoted the words of his predecessor to the Diplomatic Corps as he commemorated the 70th anniversary of the UN, born “from the ashes of that immense tragedy which was the Second World War”.
Among the loftiest expressions of peace in the 20th century, Montini’s discourse indicated the historical origin of the UN: “the blood of millions, countless unheard-of sufferings, useless massacres and frightening ruins have sanctioned the agreement that unites you with an oath that ought to change the future history of the world: never again war, never again war! It is peace, peace, that has to guide the destiny of the nations of all mankind!”. And, “speaking for the dead as well as the living”, most of all for the poor and for those yearning for justice, Paul VI underlined “the great principle” that relationships between nations must be regulated by reason and not by force.
The same vow for the future returned today in Pope Francis’ address to the world, engendered by meditation on the evangelical narrative of the birth of Jesus, in which Christian tradition is able to foresee the drama of Christ’s “humiliation and rejection, even to death on the cross”. Today too, the divine gift of peace, which is however a “personal and social responsibility”, is confronted with the “the hardened heart of a humanity” and of those who in this time embody Herod, the Pontiff stated, recalling with anguish the horrors and conflicts which are staining the world with blood: from the attacks which shocked France to the horrors which tear Nigeria apart.
Once again, the Pope has, before representatives of nations of the entire world, condemned the crime of the rape of women and the throwaway mentality with regard to the sick, the displaced, refugees, migrants and those who he again defined as “hidden exiles”: the elderly, the disabled, unemployed young people, children considered as goods merchandise. The family, then, risks being depleted by the declining birth rate and by legislation which ignores it while granting privilege to “various forms of cohabitation”; meanwhile a “globalization which levels out differences” continues to advance in the face of a relentless economic crisis.
Yet, Francis’ gaze remains open to hope: with a wish, in this meaningful moment, that the Italian people “will not yield to apathy or dissension, but will rediscover those values of shared concern and solidarity which are at the basis of their culture and civic life”. And mere hours before departing for Sri Lanka and The Philippines, the Pope repeated that “violence is always the product of a falsification of religion”. And that the only practicable way is that of dialogue and encounter.
St. Peter’s Square
Aug. 22, 2019
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