The Holy See’s U.N. Host

Archbishop Bernardito Auza Previews Pope Francis’ Address

NEW YORK — The Church’s senior representative to the United Nations, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, says Pope Francis will deliver a powerful moral message when he addresses the U.N. on Sept. 25, during his papal visit to the United States.

Archbishop Auza, a native of the Philippines, has served the Church as permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York since July 2014. In a Sept. 8 email interview with the Register, he explained the nature of the relationship between the Church and the U.N., the significance of Pope Francis’ address and some of the key issues that the Holy Father is likely to highlight.


What is the significance for the world community and for the Church of Pope Francis’ upcoming speech at the United Nations?

Pope Francis’ visit to the United Nations is first a validation, an act of appreciation for the United Nations, which represents all the countries around the world. Second, his visit is significant because he will be addressing the “family of nations” right before the post-2015 Summit for Development will start, so there will be a huge attendance of heads of state, heads of government and foreign ministers. So we hope the words of the Holy Father will multiply through these leaders when they head home. Even though Pope Francis is going to a political body, he will certainly be speaking above all as a pastor, as the leader of the Catholic Church, who also exercises moral authority and who has the attention of people who are not Catholic Christians. It will be an opportunity for everyone to hear what the Church thinks about integral human development, about social justice, about the environment, on big issues affecting peace, security and human rights, like what is going on in the Middle East.


What is the nature of the relationship between the Church and the United Nations, and how has this relationship evolved under the leadership of recent popes?

The relationship between the Holy See and the United Nations has always been, in general, very polite and cordial. There are specific questions on which the Holy See and the Catholic Church will differ with the United Nations, but that is a normal part of the relations between any two entities. Certain points of disputes certainly do not mean that their relationships are poor or useless. The Holy See is a permanent observer to the United Nations. The Holy See established its permanent presence here to the United Nations in 1964. Before that, the Holy Father always received an invitation from the secretary general of the United Nations to send a delegate to the open debate of the General Assembly. It was only in 1964, however, that the Holy See decided to have a permanent mission here. That is what we call the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See.


What issues of particular importance will Pope Francis highlight in his Sept. 25 U.N. address?

Whenever a pope speaks before the United Nations, there are certainly some aspects that are predictable and some that will likely surprise us. In terms of what is predictable, popes normally speak on the importance of the United Nations, on the various pillars of the U.N. Charter, like saving us from the scourge of war through the pursuit of peace, development, human dignity and rights, and respect for international treaties and the rule of law. Popes also often address issues on the current U.N. agenda. So it is predictable that Pope Francis will say something about the post-2015 development agenda, because that is what will be taken up in the development summit that will commence immediately after the Pope’s address. It’s also predictable that the Holy Father will speak about climate change, since that is something that the United Nations will be addressing in Paris this December. Pope Francis indicated earlier this year that he published his encyclical on “Care for Our Common Home,” Laudato Si, when he did precisely in order to inspire courageous choices in Paris. At the same time, everyone knows that Pope Francis is a man of surprises, and so I think everyone is going to be listening attentively when the Holy Father comes, since no one except the Holy Spirit knows exactly what he will say.


In Laudato Si (The Care of Our Common Home), the Holy Father identified climate change as “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” Will he call on the member states of the United Nations to take specific actions with respect to climate change through the existing U.N. processes that deal with this issue?

The Holy Father will likely not get into very detailed suggestions about how each country or the international community should deal with climate change, but he has said many times he expects states to have serious negotiations to fight the degradation of our environment and to combat climate change. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis broadens the discussion by giving many suggestions of how much we all need to contribute to the care of our common home in our day-to-day lifestyle. He’s calling each of us to change our consumption and production patterns to make our common home healthier.


Immigration is a very prominent area of international concern right now, especially in Europe and the United States. What do you anticipate the Pope will say about this topic?

I would anticipate that when Pope Francis is in Philadelphia at the World Meeting of Families, immigration would come up, because the phenomenon of immigration obviously impacts families, as so many members of families immigrate in order to provide for their families. When Pope Francis addresses the question of immigration, it is important to recognize that he does as a pastor and a father, not as a politician. Immigration is above all a human and humanitarian question, not a primarily political one. When the Holy Father addresses the phenomenon of people moving from their natural environment and countries, leaving families and friends and societies behind, often fleeing something horrible, he sees people in need of help. Of course he understands that there are important political and legal considerations, but he doesn’t want those considerations to blind us to the fact that immigrants are above all persons who need help.


Religious freedom is an issue that has been prominently highlighted by the U.S. bishops in recent years, particularly in the context of life and family issues. Is this another matter that Pope Francis might address?

Religious freedom is a big issue, not only for the Church, but for everybody, because religious freedom is a fundamental human freedom. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever your beliefs are, then you ought to be free to practice in private and in public the beliefs you hold. That is why the Holy Father has spoken out very strongly about the persecutions of Christians in the Middle East. The explicit religious intolerance and persecution happening there is an injustice, against every rule of law and every humanitarian principle and every good sense. That is why the Holy Father highlights religious freedom in the context of this persecution. These people are being discriminated against and killed simply because they are Christians, simply because they belong to this minority group, whether ethnic or religious. The Holy Father will not stop underlining the question of religious freedom in these types of persecutions.


Moving forward, what might be the lasting impact of Pope Francis’ appearance at the United Nations? Have previous papal visits resulted in significant positive changes for the international community?

It is always hard quantitatively to measure the impact of a visit of the Holy Father, but I would hope that one result will be a greater awareness of the question of social justice as part of the whole issue of climate change. I expect that to be one of the largest positive impacts, not only of his visit, but of all his previous words and work, as the international community heads toward the conference on climate change in Paris this December. The Holy Father has had a very strong impact during the negotiations of the post-2015 development agenda. His words, especially after Laudato Si, have been quoted by many delegations. The co-facilitator of the SDG negotiations said that everyone should read Laudato Si, whether one is Catholic or not, whether one is Christian or not, because what the U.N. is debating is at the very heart of Laudato Si

This is why I always emphasize that the visit of the Holy Father, not to mention the presence and active participation of the Holy See at the U.N., is an acknowledgment that what the U.N. tries to do and what we preach in Catholic social doctrine are largely the same values. We may have differences sometimes in reaching the objectives, but we are convinced that we are working towards the same objectives listed in the U.N. Charter: sparing us from the scourge of war, having international treaties observed, promoting and respecting fundamental human rights, and observing and fostering the development of all in larger freedom.


A longer version of this interview appears at