Thursday, October 08, 2015

DOES JESUS “BAN”? by Fr. Cedric Prakash sj

-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*

One of the most enduring and memorable scenes for a disciple of Jesus is that of the ‘Last Supper’ which takes place on the evening before the crucifixion of Jesus. Several things take place during this very moving event: Jesus institutes what is regarded as the ‘mandamus’ (the mandate): “Love one another”, he reminds those around the table “as I have loved you”.  Jesus goes down on his knees and washes the feet of each of his disciples. He is fully aware that one of them Judas Iscariot will betray him shortly; however, he does not leave out Judas nor does he ‘ban’ him from the happenings of that eventful night. He washes the feet of Judas and he willingly shares with Judas the bread and the cup and while doing so he says “the one who shared my bread has risen against me”. (Jn 13:18).

In his life on earth, Jesus very clearly shows us that his mission was inclusive. He welcomed sinners of every kind: those who exploited others to those who were adulterous. In all this, he took an unequivocal stand for truth and justice. He had no qualms in calling the powerful and vested interests “a brood of vipers” and “whitened sepulchres”. He identified himself totally with the victims of society knowing full well that it was they who needed someone to take up cudgels on their behalf. He was also sensitive; taking extra precautions not to hurt others unnecessarily. 

Agnes of God’ is an American film which was made in 1985 based on a play (written earlier in 1982) by John Pielmeier. The plot hovers around a young nun, her mysterious pregnancy and a dead baby. The nun insists that the child was of a ‘virgin conception’.  Both the original play and the film did not seem to have “offended” people across the world all these years and even in Bombay when it was first staged some years ago.

Unfortunately, last week when the play directed by Kaizaad Kotwal was about to be staged there were some protests from certain individuals and groups, some even asking for the ‘banning’ of the play since it is apparently from ‘a wrongful portrayal  of the character of lakhs of clergy who are committed to a life of celibacy’. Strangely if one goes through the script of the play and even the film which one can easily download from the net, one really wonders what this “wrongful portrayal” is all about. Those protesting against the play might think they have scored some ‘brownie points’ but on the flipside they may have done the play a world of good because now with the free advertisement provided, several will now have heard of ‘Agnes of God’; will surely download the film, buy a DVD and even want to see the play!

For a disciple of Jesus, the ‘ban culture’ should be something that one should desist from.  Jesus took a stand on several issues of his time but he did not ban the women who brought their children to be blessed by him nor did he ban that sinful woman who wanted to anoint his feet with precious ointment.  For those around him, some of these things were just not appropriate.  Jesus reasoned this out with them, he dialogued, he asserted his point of view. 

A disciple of Jesus is taught that every woman and man is created in the image and likeness of God. So when an adivasi woman is gang-raped, when Akhlaq is lynched in Dadri that is the time a Christian should be outraged. It is then that we are called to be visible and vocal just as Jesus would have done in his time; just as he would have done today. A Christian’s faith cannot be shaken by a mere play even if it is “offensive”. True, everyone needs to be sensitive about the belief of another; but calling for a ‘ban’ is just not the way.

Article 19 of the Constitution of India guarantees every Indian citizen the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. This same right also resonates in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We certainly have a right to protest but the question we need to ask ourselves is “what are we protesting about?”

Pope Francis has consistently been calling all Christians to be inclusive; to be able to create space for the ‘other’; to dialogue to the point of asking all Catholic Parishes in Europe to adopt at least one Syrian refugee family. Can we learn something from his words and witness?

In the recent past, we have witnessed and experienced a spate of bans all over the country. People want to ban what we eat and what we do; what we see and what we read; Indian girls ‘should not dress up like this’ or ‘should not be out late at night’; Muslims and Christians will not be permitted to enter a garba mandap in parts of Gujarat....the list is endless indeed!  The ‘ban culture’ is symptomatic of a society becoming more fundamentalist, fanatic and fascist.

A healthy democracy has to promote freedom of thought and expression at every level and must have the courage to respect dissenting opinions and other voices. The only ‘ban’ that could be accepted on this freedom is a commitment to “ban the ban”

One hopes at least the Christians in India will help promote and defend a society which is more tolerant, more inclusive and which protects the rights and freedom of every single citizen. Above all, as Christians we need to ask ourselves, if Jesus was physically around today, would he call for a ban on ‘Agnes of God’?

7th October, 2015

(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)

Address: ‘PRASHANT’,  Hill Nagar,  Near Saffron Hotel,  Drive-in Road,  Ahmedabad - 380052

Phone: (079) 27455913,  66522333  Fax:  (079) 27489018                             

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

A ROSARY IN YOUR CAR! by Fr. Cedric Prakash sj

-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*

Saturday 3rd October evening was perhaps one of those strangely ‘normal’ evenings that one could experience in Mumbai. It was hot and humid and several of those I had encountered that day were complaining about ‘the terrible weather’. I was at St. Andrews Church early that evening for the funeral mass of my dear friend, mentor and guide Bishop Ferdie Fonseca. After mass, there were the happy encounters with both friends and strangers and then a visit to the Sisters of the Holy Family Hospital, just down the road.

When I finally left the hospital around 7.00 that evening to move towards Andheri, a steady drizzle had begun. The Sisters insisted that I carry with me one of their umbrellas (of course it was a lady’s umbrella, apparently gifted to them by the local Jesuits on some Feast Day). With great reluctance I accepted their kind offer and walked outside the gate hoping to jump into an auto to my destination. There were several autos outside but every one of them was “full” with passengers.  I began walking down the road in search of one but did not meet with any success.  I was also carrying with me a rather heavy bag of snacks generously bought for me by some friends from the famous ‘Hearsch’ Bakery. Suddenly, the skies broke open and it began to rain not only ‘cats and dogs’ but ‘elephants and rhinos’.  In a matter of minutes I was drenched to my bones. That beautiful umbrella could hardly withstand the onslaught of the torrential rains leave alone protecting me!

In my bravado, I decided to continue walking ahead and not to turn back to the hospital. I also felt that if I did not get an auto, I would hail a taxi which I thought would be much easier to get.  Well, that again proved to be as elusive as a dream. Due to the rain, the traffic had become choc-a-bloc.  I started getting a bit worried because I still had to attend to a couple of other things that evening. The footpath did not seem very conducive to walk. The rains had increased even more. The going had become tough indeed!

Suddenly from out of the blue, there was a beautiful young lady in front of me asking me in Hindi “Uncle where are you going?” I am not very used to total strangers asking me such questions; however, I did not even think of ignoring that question; eager to be ‘rescued’, I said “Andheri”. “What a pity”, she said, “we are not going that direction; but come along, we can see what we can do”.

Guess I was totally helpless! The rains did not seem to relent. So like a drowning man, clutching to the proverbial straw, I meekly followed the young lady not knowing where she was heading. “Damsel in distress” is a well-known phrase in English literature of a beautiful young woman being ultimately rescued by a ‘hero’; the plot scripted that evening was totally in reverse. A ‘damsel’ rescuing a senior citizen who was stranded! She walked ahead of me, a few metres up the road, where a car was parked. She opened the door of the car and asked me to get in: totally soaked I was just not going to say “no” fully aware that I was wetting the upholstery of the class Volkswagen Vento. There was a young man behind the wheel; the lady in the meantime took a seat beside him and without even batting an eyelid, they were unanimous in their generosity saying “don’t worry sir, we will make sure to reach you to an auto or a taxi to take you to your destination.”

He started the car but it was difficult for him to negotiate the terrible traffic even as the rains continued to pour. It was then that I noticed it: hanging on their inside rear view mirror was a rosary! ‘My goodness’, I said to myself, ‘they must be Catholics’. By nature, I am an inclusive person. Some of my closest friends are non-Christians and even those who do not believe in any God. I do not think that one should wear one’s religion up one’s sleeve. So I took the next step and asked their names.  ‘Andre Lobo’, he said and she ‘Rhianna Prabhu’; then like one of those difficult puzzles we began connecting the dots and crosses. Small world indeed! I asked them, “why did you have to stop?” “So what if there was a stranded stranger at the kerb?” “Why were you willing to take the risk?”; their answers were not easily forthcoming but basically they said, they just felt that they just wanted to do something for someone. Andre very generously conceded that “it is Rhianna who is touched and oozes with compassion”.

They had to drive quite a distance almost to the highway before Andre could step out and find an auto for me. But all the way, they were cheerful enough to make me feel that I was not a bother at all; I was aware though that they were going out of their way – to be of help to me!

That evening and even now as I write this, I have been reflecting ‘what if there were no Rhiannas and Andres in Bandra and Bombay, in India and in the rest of the world? They had the guts to share the comfort of their luxurious car with someone they really did not know; all they saw was a ‘drenched stranger in distress’. It reminded me of Pope Francis’ call to every Catholic Parish in Europe to take in at least one refugee family from Syria. Discipleship is about witness; about concrete tangible expressions of reaching out to others. Rhianna and Andre, (though I still know fairly little about them) seemed to be doing well in life, educated and more than middle-class. They had a choice that night. They chose the harder option. 

I see the rosary dangling in the inside of their car in front of them both.  They surely need not have put it up there; but once again, they have made a choice!  Was that rosary a sign of their motivation; of them wanting to help others! A reminder of Mary: that all - embracing woman, the Mother of Jesus – who reached out to her kinswoman Elizabeth and ultimately reached out to all? Is it a reminder to them - and to all of us - that little selfless acts of kindness help in making our world a better place?

October 7th is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary in a month which has been dedicated to the rosary.  Many of our families seem to have done away with the time-tested practice of the daily recitation of the rosary in the family; however, there are still some who faithfully carry it in their pockets, wear it around their necks and even hang it out on their inside rear view mirror of their car. I am not one who is easily given into ritual or religious props. Some years ago, I had written an article entitled “Is the Rosary in my pocket?” Today, after that memorable experience with Rhianna and Andre, I ask myself, “do I see a rosary in your car? or if you don’t have a car, is there one in your pocket? And if so, does the rosary motivate you to reach out to others?”   

6th October, 2015
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.  He is the recipient of several national and international awards including the Legion of Honour from the President of France and the Kabir Puraskar from the President of India)
Address: ‘PRASHANT’, Hill Nagar, Near Saffron Hotel, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052
Phone: (079) 27455913, 66522333 Fax:  (079) 27489018                             

Monday, October 05, 2015

India fails to heed its father's call( Multiple incidents of mob violence mar Gandhi's legacy of nonviolence) by Fr Cedric Prakash (October 2nd 2015)

India fails to heed its father's call

Multiple incidents of mob violence mar Gandhi's legacy of nonviolence
<p>Various images of Mahatma Gandhi make up a hand-made collage featured in the reception area at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi on Sept. 8. (Photo by Chandan Khanna/AFP)</p>
Various images of Mahatma Gandhi make up a hand-made collage featured in the reception area at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi on Sept. 8. (Photo by Chandan Khanna/AFP)
  • Father Cedric Prakash, Ahmedabad
  • India
  • October 2, 2015
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As the world observes International Day of Nonviolence on Oct. 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, it is simply unbelievable, but truly painful to see what is happening in India, where Gandhi championed the cause of nonviolence.
Just this week a Hindu mob lynched a Muslim man, following rumors he and his family ate beef in Bisara, a village just 40 kilometers outside New Delhi.
The murderous mob of some 1,000 people armed with swords and clubs dragged Mohammed Akhlaq and his family from their home and beat them with bricks and clubs on Sept. 28. He died the next day; his son remains in critical condition. His 82-year-old mother, wife and daughter were molested and beaten. The beef-eating rumor seemed to have originated from a nearby temple. That such an incident can take place in 21st century India should make any Indian hang one's head in shame.
If this was an isolated incident, we could attempt to brush it aside. However, we routinely hear of groups taking the law into their own hands and lynching people. Women paraded naked, people attacked, sexually violated, and sometimes killed as punishment for actions that some groups consider morally incorrect.
On March 5, another mob stormed a jail in the northeastern city of Dimapur, dragged a man accused of rape onto the streets, stripped him and lynched him. Vigilantes and moral policing seem to be the order of the day as right-wing forces in the country decide what one should eat and wear, what films one should see, what books should be read, above all whether it is "Indian culture" or not for a woman to be out late at night.
These radical forces have institutionalized violence in the country as never before. They have engaged in a multipronged program ranging from aggressive ghar wapsi [literally homecoming but which refers to religious conversions of Christians and Muslims to Hinduism] campaigns to the renaming of roads with Hindu names.
In their scheme of things, in order to establish a Hindu nation-state, they need to denigrate minorities, uphold the highly patriarchal and caste-based Manusmriti code [an ancient Indian legal compilation that divides society into four main groups based on four occupational groupings: Brahmin (priests), Kshatriya (warriors), Vaishya (traders) and Sudra (menial workers)], tamper with India's constitution and above all negate the ideals of a democratic India based on pluralism, justice, liberty and equality for all.
One of their key outfits — the "Sanathan Sanstha" — is held responsible for the murder of the communist politician Govind Pansare; they also are reported to be behind the murders of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and M.M. Kalburgi.
Violence holds sway even as the country celebrates another birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of truth and nonviolence. Symbolically enough, in June 2007, the U.N. General Assembly through a resolution declared the day as International Day of Nonviolence, which is certainly an unparalleled tribute to the father of the Indian nation.
The resolution for this observance states: "the day is an occasion to disseminate the message of nonviolence, including through education and public awareness; it reaffirms the universal relevance of the principle of nonviolence and the desire to secure a culture of peace, tolerance, understanding and nonviolence." Mahatma Gandhi did his best to mainstream the doctrine of nonviolence. He was unequivocal about that.
Unfortunately, there are those from the political class, the corporate sector and others with vested interests who have completely disregarded what Gandhi epitomized, preached, lived and died for. Nonviolence is more of a utopia because we have not had the courage, the humility and the determination to mainstream it.
Tribal people across India are robbed of their water, forests and land with impunity. Faulty land and mining laws legitimize the way big players not only deplete precious natural resources but also destroy the identity and livelihoods of local tribal people.

Human trafficking and bonded labor has become an accepted practice in several parts of the country with thousands of children working in cotton fields, at brick kilns, in the stone-cutting industry and other forms of hard labor. There are an estimated 60 million children working in India's agricultural, industrial and commercial sectors according to a recent report released by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
The high rate of female feticide, the way the girl child is treated and the inability of most men to treat women as equals is a powerful indicator of a violent society. Caste discrimination, honor killings, the inhuman practice of scavenging are all part of a canvas of institutionalized violence in India.
Early this week, a special court in Mumbai sentenced five people to death, holding them responsible for planting bombs on city trains, which resulted in a series of explosions killing 188 commuters and injuring many more on July 11, 2006. When Yakub Memon was hanged on July 30 for his involvement in the 1993 Bombay bombings a sense of violent perversity seemed to grip large sections of the country. India has increased its military budget by 11 percent and is today the world's biggest arms importer. All this is certainly symptomatic of a violent state.
If we are serious about nonviolence becoming a tangible reality, we must be able to mainstream it in every dimension of life: in our attitudes, articulation and action. Precious little seems to be done about this.
We would do well to pay heed to the words of Gandhi, who wrote in his Harijan journal on July 20, 1935: "Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man. Destruction is not the law of the humans. Man lives freely by his readiness to die, if need be, at the hands of his brother, never by killing him. Every murder or injury, no matter for what cause, committed or inflicted on another is a crime against humanity."
Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash is the director of Prashant (Tranqulity), the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Center for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.
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Wednesday, September 30, 2015


-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*

Pope Francis is currently on a visit to the United States and the United Nations. This historic visit is not only taking America, but in fact, the whole wocrld by storm.  It is a defining moment for humanity!

Pope Francis landed in the United States on Tuesday, September 22nd evening (US time). In an unprecedented welcome, President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, along with Vice-President Joe Biden and his family travelled to Joint Base Andrews outside Washington to welcome the Pope. The US President does not normally go to welcome a foreign dignitary; by doing so, Obama has sent a message to the American people and the world leaders, that this Pope’s visit is being taken very seriously.

In a typical style which has characterized his Pontificate, Pope Francis is expected to communicate those values which are not only dear to his heart but also which the world needs so desperately. These include: simplicity of lifestyle; saying “no” to unbridled consumerism; an appeal to care for refugees and immigrants; to feel responsible for climate change and the way natural resources have been plundered by those who want to maximize their profits.

Last evening after being welcomed by President Obama, Pope Francis travelled in an ordinary black Fiat hatch-back car which was smaller than the huge limousines normally used by dignitaries. A powerful message for the people of the world’s richest country that he rejects pageantry and prefers a life which is humble and simple!

Pope Francis is known for his blunt critique of capitalism and of the market-driven economy. He has minced no words on this subject in his path-breaking Encyclical ‘Laudato Si: On the Care for our Common Home’Many people know that our current progress and the mere amassing of things and pleasures are not enough to give meaning and joy to the human heart, yet they feel unable to give up what the market sets before them” (#209). On the plane from Cuba to the US yesterday, Pope Francis told the journalists that his critique of capitalism is consistent with the social teaching of the Church.

Climate change, global warming and the wanton destruction of natural resources will surely figure prominently in some of his key addresses. In ‘Laudato Si’ he states “the warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world” (#51). It is significant that one of India’s leading dailies (DNA, page 1) today in a major headline stated that, “Law aids tainted firms to continue mining: backed by a new law, it’s business as usual for miners accused of illegally extracting iron ore in a massive Rs 1 lakh crore scam”. But do we care?

Pope Francis has always demonstrated a tremendous compassion for refugees and immigrants and for the human rights of all people very specially the poorest of the poor.  When he speaks to the United Nations General Assembly on September 25th on the “Sustainable Development Goals”, he is bound to express these concerns to those world leaders who care to listen to him. He will emphasize the urgency to end poverty and ensure peace for all. He would certainly call for a paradigm shift in the way countries respond to endemic issues and of the way the powerful and vested interests would rather keep war and conflict going on in several parts of the world, for profiteering and greed.

These next days are surely going to be special not merely for the US and the UN, but for the ordinary citizens in every corner of the world. Pope Francis through word and witness has brought a new breath, a fresh ray of hope to many. He is bound to challenge the world leaders in no uncertain terms. Will they have the courage to accept his challenge? And particularly, will India do so?
23rd September, 2015

(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)

Address: ‘PRASHANT’, Hill Nagar, Near Saffron Hotel, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052

Phone: (079) 27455913, 66522333 Fax:  (079) 27489018   Email:                          

Images, Heart, Faith Come Together in Refugee Response, Jesuits Say

Fr. Peter Balleis, SJ, outgoing international director of Jesuit Refugee Service, at JRS’s office at the Jesuit headquarters in Rome. (CNS photo)
“The Gospel calls us, asks us to be near the least and the abandoned.” — Pope Francis
Images, Heart, Faith Come Together
 in Refugee Response, Jesuits Say
September 30, 2015 — Given the ongoing crisis of people fleeing from war and poverty, Pope Francis has asked every parish and religious community in Europe to take in a family of refugees as a concrete sign of hope and God's mercy. “The Gospel calls us, asks us to be near the least and the abandoned,” Pope Francis said earlier this month. That has been Jesuit Refugee Service’s (JRS) mission for the past 35 years.
Fr. Peter Balleis, SJ, international director of JRS, understands how with the photograph of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who drowned, “the crisis in the Middle East, the drama, has reached the hearts of the people.”
Seeing that “boy, who could be anyone’s grandchild or child, that child who should not have died,” people spontaneously knew “something is wrong here, something is wrong that people take such desperate steps, risking their lives in shaky boats.”
For eight years, Fr. Balleis has captured the beauty, the determination and the exhaustion in the faces of the migrants and refugees he has met around the world as international director of JRS.
In his photographs, he said, he tries to communicate the person he met, making sure they are not just a reflection of the statistics on refugees and migrants around the world.
A photograph “is not a number or a problem, but a human person,” he said. “It evokes a level of compassion, of feeling. And what follows is action.”
Like the famous photographs of Aylan, taken on the beach in Turkey, he said, a picture “can evoke compassion and a re-thinking.”

Fr. Balleis took this photo of a woman in Homs, Syria, in May. For Fr. Balleis, photography is a way to evoke compassion and action on behalf of refugees.
Fr. Thomas H. Smolich, SJ, who will succeed Fr. Balleis as international director Oct. 8, said, “Photos also get to our memories, which is a different place than our intellects. So that boy on the beach touches on the 3-year-olds that we were and the 3-year-olds we know. He’s perfectly dressed and he should be fine. But he’s not.”
“The images get us out of our heads and into our hearts,” Fr. Smolich said. “And that’s what the pope is doing, he is inviting us to respond out of a place of faith and a place of love rather than a place of fear.”
After Pope Francis called on every parish in Europe to take in one refugee family, the Vatican announced that both of its parishes — St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Anne’s Church — would do so.
JRS France had already been doing something similar with its “Welcome en France” program, a program that JRS has launched in other countries as well. Families volunteer, with assistance and support from JRS, to take in refugees and asylum seekers for one month. Before the deaths of Aylan and 71 refugees in an abandoned truck in Austria in late August, the program had five inquiries a week from people wanting to help, said Michel Croc of JRS France. “Last week, we received hundreds of calls,” he said Sept. 7.

The JRS project, Fr. Balleis said, was done “on a very humble level. The pope’s appeal is the key here, coming from the top, saying ‘Why don’t each of the 100,000 parishes in Europe’ — I was told there are 100,000 parishes in Europe — ‘take care of one family.’ That’s practical. That’s manageable. It is not impossible.” [Source: Catholic News Service]

Friday, September 25, 2015

Pope Francis' Speech at the United Nations General Assembly (September 25th 2015)

Pope Francis' Speech at the
 United Nations General Assembly
(Pope Francis addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Friday September 25th 2015 (morning), the first time a Pope has opened such an event. The Pope's lengthy speech covered reform, human rights, missions of peace and equity.) 

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for your kind words. Once again, following a tradition by which I feel honored, the Secretary General of the United Nations has invited the Pope to address this distinguished assembly of nations. In my own name, and that of the entire Catholic community, I wish to express to you, Mr Ban Ki-moon, my heartfelt gratitude. I greet the Heads of State and Heads of Government present, as well as the ambassadors, diplomats and political and technical officials accompanying them, the personnel of the United Nations engaged in this 70th Session of the General Assembly, the personnel of the various programs and agencies of the United Nations family, and all those who, in one way or another, take part in this meeting. Through you, I also greet the citizens of all the nations represented in this hall. I thank you, each and all, for your efforts in the service of mankind.
This is the fifth time that a Pope has visited the United Nations. I follow in the footsteps of my predecessors Paul VI, in1965, John Paul II, in 1979 and 1995, and my most recent predecessor, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in 2008. All of them expressed their great esteem for the Organization, which they considered the appropriate juridical and political response to this present moment of history, marked by our technical ability to overcome distances and frontiers and, apparently, to overcome all natural limits to the exercise of power. An essential response, inasmuch as technological power, in the hands of nationalistic or falsely universalist ideologies, is capable of perpetrating tremendous atrocities. I can only reiterate the appreciation expressed by my predecessors, in reaffirming the importance which the Catholic Church attaches to this Institution and the hope which she places in its activities.
The United Nations is presently celebrating its seventieth anniversary. The history of this organized community of states is one of important common achievements over a period of unusually fast-paced changes. Without claiming to be exhaustive, we can mention the codification and development of international law, the establishment of international norms regarding human rights, advances in humanitarian law, the resolution of numerous conflicts, operations of peace-keeping and reconciliation, and any number of other accomplishments in every area of international activity and endeavour. All these achievements are lights which help to dispel the darkness of the disorder caused by unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness. Certainly, many grave problems remain to be resolved, yet it is clear that, without all those interventions on the international level, mankind would not have been able to survive the unchecked use of its own possibilities. Every one of these political, juridical and technical advances is a path towards attaining the ideal of human fraternity and a means for its greater realization.
For this reason I pay homage to all those men and women whose loyalty and self-sacrifice have benefitted humanity as a whole in these past seventy years. In particular, I would recall today those who gave their lives for peace and reconciliation among peoples, from Dag Hammarskjöld to the many United Nations officials at every level who have been killed in the course of humanitarian missions, and missions of peace and reconciliation.
Beyond these achievements, the experience of the past seventy years has made it clear that reform and adaptation to the times is always necessary in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of granting all countries, without exception, a share in, and a genuine and equitable influence on, decision-making processes. The need for greater equity is especially true in the case of those bodies with effective executive capability, such as the Security Council, the Financial Agencies and the groups or mechanisms specifically created to deal with economic crises. This will help limit every kind of abuse or usury, especially where developing countries are concerned. The International Financial Agencies are should care for the sustainable development of countries and should ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.
The work of the United Nations, according to the principles set forth in the Preamble and the first Articles of its founding Charter, can be seen as the development and promotion of the rule of law, based on the realization that justice is an essential condition for achieving the ideal of universal fraternity. In this context, it is helpful to recall that the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself. To give to each his own, to cite the classic definition of justice, means that no human individual or group can consider itself absolute, permitted to bypass the dignity and the rights of other individuals or their social groupings. The effective distribution of power (political, economic, defense-related, technological, etc.) among a plurality of subjects, and the creation of a juridical system for regulating claims and interests, are one concrete way of limiting power. Yet today’s world presents us with many false rights and – at the same time – broad sectors which are vulnerable, victims of power badly exercised: for example, the natural environment and the vast ranks of the excluded. These sectors are closely interconnected and made increasingly fragile by dominant political and economic relationships. That is why their rights must be forcefully affirmed, by working to protect the environment and by putting an end to exclusion.
First, it must be stated that a true “right of the environment” does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which “are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology” (Laudato Si’, 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favourable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity. Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good (cf. ibid.).
The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action. Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”.
The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit, which opens today, is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.
Solemn commitments, however, are not enough, even though they are a necessary step toward solutions. The classic definition of justice which I mentioned earlier contains as one of its essential elements a constant and perpetual will: Iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius sum cuique tribuendi. Our world demands of all government leaders a will which is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences: human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labour, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime. Such is the magnitude of these situations and their toll in innocent lives, that we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges.
The number and complexity of the problems require that we possess technical instruments of verification. But this involves two risks. We can rest content with the bureaucratic exercise of drawing up long lists of good proposals – goals, objectives and statistical indicators – or we can think that a single theoretical and aprioristic solution will provide an answer to all the challenges. It must never be forgotten that political and economic activity is only effective when it is understood as a prudential activity, guided by a perennial concept of justice and constantly conscious of the fact that, above and beyond our plans and programmes, 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.
To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny. Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold for each individual, for every family, in communion with others, and in a right relationship with all those areas in which human social life develops – friends, communities, towns and cities, schools, businesses and unions, provinces, nations, etc. This presupposes and requires the right to education – also for girls (excluded in certain places) – which is ensured first and foremost by respecting and reinforcing the primary right of the family to educate its children, as well as the right of churches and social groups to support and assist families in the education of their children. Education conceived in this way is the basis for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and for reclaiming the environment.
At the same time, government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights.
For all this, the simplest and best measure and indicator of the implementation of the new Agenda for development will be effective, practical and immediate access, on the part of all, to essential material and spiritual goods: housing, dignified and properly remunerated employment, adequate food and drinking water; religious freedom and, more generally, spiritual freedom and education. These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.
The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species. The baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for wealth and power, must serve as a summons to a forthright reflection on man: “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature” (BENEDICT XVI, Address to the Bundestag, 22 September 2011, cited in Laudato Si’, 6). Creation is compromised “where we ourselves have the final word… The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any instance above ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves” (ID. Address to the Clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone, 6 August 2008, cited ibid.). Consequently, the defence of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman (cf. Laudato Si’, 155), and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions (cf. ibid., 123, 136).
Without the recognition of certain incontestable natural ethical limits and without the immediate implementation of those pillars of integral human development, the ideal of “saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war” (Charter of the United Nations, Preamble), and “promoting social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” (ibid.), risks becoming an unattainable illusion, or, even worse, idle chatter which serves as a cover for all kinds of abuse and corruption, or for carrying out an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.
War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between peoples.
To this end, there is a need to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation and arbitration, as proposed by the Charter of the United Nations, which constitutes truly a fundamental juridical norm. The experience of these seventy years since the founding of the United Nations in general, and in particular the experience of these first fifteen years of the third millennium, reveal both the effectiveness of the full application of international norms and the ineffectiveness of their lack of enforcement. When the Charter of the United Nations is respected and applied with transparency and sincerity, and without ulterior motives, as an obligatory reference point of justice and not as a means of masking spurious intentions, peaceful results will be obtained. When, on the other hand, the norm is considered simply as an instrument to be used whenever it proves favourable, and to be avoided when it is not, a true Pandora’s box is opened, releasing uncontrollable forces which gravely harm defenseless populations, the cultural milieu and even the biological environment.
The Preamble and the first Article of the Charter of the United Nations set forth the foundations of the international juridical framework: peace, the pacific solution of disputes and the development of friendly relations between the nations. Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass distraction, such as nuclear weapons. 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”. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.
The recent agreement reached on the nuclear question in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy. I express my hope that this agreement will be lasting and efficacious, and bring forth the desired fruits with the cooperation of all the parties involved.
In this sense, hard evidence is not lacking of the negative effects of military and political interventions which are not coordinated between members of the international community. For this reason, while regretting to have to do so, I must renew my repeated appeals regarding to the painful situation of the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where 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, 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.
These realities should serve as a grave summons to an examination of conscience on the part of those charged with the conduct of international affairs. Not only in cases of religious or cultural persecution, but in every situation of conflict, as in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region, real human beings take precedence over partisan interests, however legitimate the latter may be. 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. Human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements.
As I wrote in my letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 9 August 2014, “the most basic understanding of human dignity compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities” and to protect innocent peoples.
Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade. A war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption. A corruption which has penetrated to different levels of social, political, military, artistic and religious life, and, in many cases, has given rise to a parallel structure which threatens the credibility of our institutions.
I began this speech recalling the visits of my predecessors. I would hope that my words will be taken above all as a continuation of the final words of the address of Pope Paul VI; although spoken almost exactly fifty years ago, they remain ever timely. “The hour has come when a pause, a moment of recollection, reflection, even of prayer, is absolutely needed so that we may think back over our common origin, our history, our common destiny. The appeal to the moral conscience of man has never been as necessary as it is today… For the danger comes neither from progress nor from science; if these are used well, they can help to solve a great number of the serious problems besetting mankind (Address to the United Nations Organization, 4 October 1965). Among other things, human genius, well applied, will surely help to meet the grave challenges of ecological deterioration and of exclusion. As Paul VI said: “The real danger comes from man, who has at his disposal ever more powerful instruments that are as well fitted to bring about ruin as they are to achieve lofty conquests” (ibid.).
The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic. This common home of all men and women must also be built on the understanding of a certain sacredness of created nature.
Such understanding and respect call for a higher degree of wisdom, one which accepts transcendence, rejects the creation of an all-powerful élite, and recognizes that the full meaning of individual and collective life is found in selfless service to others and in the sage and respectful use of creation for the common good. To repeat the words of Paul VI, “the edifice of modern civilization has to be built on spiritual principles, for they are the only ones capable not only of supporting it, but of shedding light on it” (ibid.).
El Gaucho Martín Fierro, a classic of literature in my native land, says: “Brothers should stand by each other, because this is the first law; keep a true bond between you always, at every time – because if you fight among yourselves, you’ll be devoured by those outside”.
The contemporary world, so apparently connected, is experiencing a growing and steady social fragmentation, which places at risk “the foundations of social life” and consequently leads to “battles over conflicting interests” (Laudato Si’, 229).
The present time invites us to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society, so as to bear fruit in significant and positive historical events (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 223). We cannot permit ourselves to postpone “certain agendas” for the future. The future demands of us critical and global decisions in the face of world-wide conflicts which increase the number of the excluded and those in need.
The praiseworthy international juridical framework of the United Nations Organization and of all its activities, like any other human endeavour, can be improved, yet it remains necessary; at the same time it can be the pledge of a secure and happy future for future generations. And so it will, if the representatives of the States can set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good. I pray to Almighty God that this will be the case, and I assure you of my support and my prayers, and the support and prayers of all the faithful of the Catholic Church, that this Institution, all its member States, and each of its officials, will always render an effective service to mankind, a service respectful of diversity and capable of bringing out, for sake of the common good, the best in each people and in every individual.
Upon all of you, and the peoples you represent, I invoke the blessing of the Most High, and all peace and prosperity. Thank you.