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The International Peacemaker Makes His Case
BY SABRINA ARENA FERRISIREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
UNITED NATIONS — Some delegates, staff members and observers
of the United Nations said Pope Benedict gave them a speech to ponder.
Some said they were discovering deeper meanings in it on
second and third readings.
Others speculated on what kind of effect it would have on
dealings with the United Nations.
The Holy Father delivered his first speech to the General
Assembly at the beginning of the New York leg of his papal visit April 18. And
many agreed that it was not for the intellectually faint-of-heart.
“I thought it was great,” said Samantha Singson of the
Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-Fam), a non-governmental
organization at the United Nations. “But it was very subtle.”
Following the speech to delegates and ceremonial visits
within the international body’s complex, Benedict came back into the General
Assembly hall where upwards of 3,000 U.N. staffers awaited his message to them.
The second gathering gave the Pope a wildly enthusiastic
reception, compared to the more subdued applause from diplomats earlier.
The first speech, about half an hour in length, was prefaced
by a brief introduction by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who noted that the
United Nations has no chapel, only a “meditation room.”
Though the United Nations does not officially advocate any
religion, “many of us are motivated by our religious faith,” the South Korean
secretary general said.
Pope Benedict spoke in French and English, giving a profound
analysis of various themes already developed during his pontificate: the true
meaning of human rights, human freedom, the sanctity of human life and
What He Said
The Pope spent a great deal of time in his speech making the
connection between human rights and the responsibilities that states have in
“Every state has the primary duty to protect its own
population from grave and sustained violations of human rights,” he said, “as
well as from the consequences of humanitarian crises whether natural or
The assembly hall was filled with representatives from the
192 member states of the United Nations. Susan Yoshihara of C-Fam was among
those paying close attention.
“I was struck by the way in which he juxtaposed the
responsibility to protect with the proper understanding of human rights,” she
said. “It was just brilliant.”
Yoshihara believes that various portions of the speech were
meant to be understood for what was between the lines. The “duty to protect”
could be understood, she explained, as referring to the situation in Darfur,
Somalia, or for what happened in the Rwanda in 1994.
The Holy Father applauded the legacy of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights 60 years after it was drafted.
“This document was the outcome of a convergence of different
religious and cultural traditions, all of them motivated by the common desire
to place the human person at the heart of institutions, laws and the workings
of society, and to consider the human person essential for the world of
culture, religion and science,” he said.
He went on to state that these rights “apply to everyone by
virtue of the common origin of the person, who remains the high-point of God’s
creative design for the world and for history.”
“The Universal Declaration on Human Rights was based on a
transcendent view of the human person,” said Yoshihara. “It was written with
the influence of various Catholic nations.”
It was profoundly pro-life. Jeanne Head, who lobbies at the
U.N. on behalf of International Right to Life, said Benedict’s words may fall
on deaf ears in that regard. “You can’t come to common ground on this,” she
said. “They’re either human rights or not human rights. I apply that to the unborn.”
With that as a backdrop, the Holy Father alluded to the fact
that certain groups and nations have been trying to create new rights without
any basis in natural law.
“There are efforts to read into rights — for example, by
creating special rights for homosexuals,” said C-Fam’s Singson.
In a fairly strong statement, Pope Benedict called upon the
nations of the world to respect true religious freedom.
“It is inconceivable, then, that believers should have to
suppress a part of themselves — their faith — in order to be active citizens,”
he said. “It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one’s
There have been calls for greater respect for religious
freedom in places such as Saudi Arabia, China and Vietnam.
Eight years ago, the 57 nations of the Organization of the
Islamic Conference voted to accept a “Declaration on Human Rights in Islam,”
which, according to Catholic journalist Russell Shaw, states that people have a
right to live in freedom and dignity — provided they do that in accord with
sharia (Islamic law).
Delegates we attempted to reach after the Friday speech were
unavailable, including the Saudi mission, the Islamic Conference and the
Chinese mission to the United Nations.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the permanent representative of the United
States to the United Nations, was not available for interviews.
Staffers were easier to contact than delegates, and many
expressed their appreciation for the talk the Pope gave directly to them.
The Pope acknowledged those personnel and peacekeepers who
have sacrificed their lives, including 42 staffers who were killed in the field
in 2007. But he also listed “translators, secretaries, administrative personnel
of every kind, maintenance and security staff” whose work supports the U.N.
mission of peace, justice and development.
“As soon as he stepped into the hall, the whole assembly
stood and cheered with an intensity you don’t usually see at the United
Nations,” said Jean Quesnel, director of the evaluation office at UNICEF.
Casimir Wolnowski was delighted. He’s with the
intergovernmental organization of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. The
organization is a permanent observer at the United Nations.
“The most important thing that I got out of his speech was
an understanding of how we as human persons coming from the stronger member
nations have an obligation to take care of the weaker member nations,”
Wolnowski said. “The U.N. is a symbol of different groups and nations coming
together for common cause and looking at the needs of others.”
Register News Editor
John Burger contributed to this article.
Sabrina Arena Ferrisi
is based in New York.
The Associated Press gave details of the Pope’s early
arrival at the United Nations headquarters yesterday:
“Germans, by tradition, put great importance on punctuality.
Delays of even a few minutes for work or social engagements are considered
impolite, especially among Germans of Benedict’s generation — though early
arrivals are also considered poor etiquette. But the Pope’s travels were not in
his hands. ...”
Planned arrival time: 10:45.
Actual arrival time: 10:23
Difference: 22 minutes.
The word got to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, General
Assembly President Srgjan Kerim and their wives. They rushed to the curb to
greet the Pope.
Even Ban, who has met the Pope before, was excited by the
papal visit. “Great day! Greatest day!” he is quoted saying.
The Pope signed the guest book in Latin. His message: “The
effect of justice will be peace.”
“Still well ahead of schedule, Ban and Benedict headed to
the General Assembly, where diplomats rose and applauded as he entered the
Then came the ceremonials and remarks. Then the departure.
Planned departure time: 1:45 p.m.
Actual departure time: 1:23.
Difference: 22 minutes.
It would seem that, once in the building, with more control
over his own movements, the punctual Pope kept to his planned schedule