Pope Francis at UN General Assembly – emphasis on reclaiming the environment and respect for life

Pope Francis praisedthe United Nations’ achievements in the past 70 yearswhilst deliveringthe fifth papal address to UN – the first to open its General Assembly session – stating that “All these achievements are lights which help to dispel the darkness of the disorder caused by unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness”. He added that without such interventions on an international level” mankind would not have been able to survive the unchecked use of its own possibilities”.

In his address tomore than 150 world leaders at a U.N. gathering to formulatea new global agenda for development projects in the next 15 years, Pope Francis made it clear that aid projects to help people attain a dignified life by escaping extreme poverty must bear in mind the human face of those they seek to help so they can be“dignified agents of their own destiny”.He said that integral human development “cannot be imposed” but must be allowed to flourish in every person and family, which he referred to as “the primary cell of any social development.”

The Pope urged governments to do everything they can to provide conditions that allow people to create and support families by giving them with access to work, housing, land and spiritual freedom. He also criticised financial agencies for imposing “oppressive lending systems” that increased dependence, poverty and exclusion.

He emphasised “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”.

The Pope also urged those present to eliminatewar,nuclear weapons and a culture of exclusion and to recognise the moral law in human naturethat differentiates between man and woman and has “absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions.”

A large part of Pope Francis’ speech emphasised the connection between environmental destruction and the cultural phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, which he described as “a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment”. He said “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”.

Although he did not mention climate change specifically, the Pope emphasised the importance of reclaiming the environment and expressed his hope that the Paris negotiations would result in “fundamental and effective agreements.” Francis stated that environmental protection was vital for two reasons – first because mankind is part of the environment and second,” every creature has intrinsic value in its existence, beauty and interdependence”.

The Pope believes that immediate action to protect and improve the natural environment would bring to a swift end  the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion that resulted in the trafficking of humans, organs, drugs and weapons. He said that the world demands of its leaders to take practical and effective measures to achieve that end.

Pope Francissaid the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, was “an important sign of hope.” The Agenda, which was formally adopted by unanimous vote among the 193 member statesafter the Pope’s speech, has 17 goals and 169 targets to end poverty, promote education and gender equality, secure access to water and sustainable energy, and to address climate change. The Pope declared that the best way to achieve the Agenda’s goalswould beto ensure everyone had “effective, practical and immediate access”  to housing, dignified work, adequate food and drinking water, education, and religious and spiritual freedom.

In his final words he referred toPope Paul VI’s conclusion nearly 40 years ago: “The danger comes neither from progress nor from science … 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.” He added that we cannot allow ourselves to postpone “certain agendas”. Critical global decisions have to be made now as world-wide conflicts continue to increase the number of the severely poor and excluded.