Pope Francis began his first full day in New York City at the United Nations (UN) where he first met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and greeted UN staff in a town hall meeting.
The Holy Father then addressed the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. He praised the United Nations for its achievements in “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.”
Evoking the UN Charter, the Holy Father said that “justice is an essential condition for achieving the ideal of universal fraternity.” He reminded leaders that “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.”
He then moved on to a fuller discussion of environmental degradation and its impact on the most vulnerable, stating that:
“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.'”
He reminded member states that justice demands “effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment,” which he linked 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.
He then made the point 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.” Integral human development and dignity, he said, cannot be imposed, but require that persons be permitted to be “dignified agents of their own destiny” through “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….” The role of government, in turn, is to promote the common good; that is, “to 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, labor and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights.”
Later in his address, the Holy Father turned to the issues of religious and cultural persecution, which he said force persons to migrate throughout the world:
“… 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.”
The Holy Father also condemned “drug trafficking,” which, he said, is “by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption.”
Following his speech at the United Nations, Pope Francis visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. His address at Ground Zero represented a powerful tribute to the memory of those whose lives had been lost and who sacrificed their lives for others, and an appeal for solidarity, dialogue and peace:
“A few moments ago I met some of the families of the fallen first responders. Meeting them made me see once again how acts of destruction are never impersonal, abstract or merely material. They always have a face, a concrete story, names. In those family members, we see the face of pain, a pain which still touches us and cries out to heaven.
At the same time, those family members showed me the other face of this attack, the other face of their grief: the power of love and remembrance. A remembrance that does not leave us empty and withdrawn. The names of so many loved ones are written around the towers’ footprints. We can see them, we can touch them and we can never forget them.
Here, amid pain and grief, we also have a palpable sense of the heroic goodness which people are capable of, those hidden reserves of strength from which we can draw. In the depths of pain and suffering, you also witnessed the heights of generosity and service. Hands reached out, lives were given. In a metropolis which might seem impersonal, faceless, lonely, you demonstrated the powerful solidarity born of mutual support, love and self-sacrifice. No one thought about race, nationality, neighborhoods, religion or politics. It was all about solidarity, meeting immediate needs, brotherhood. It was about being brothers and sisters. New York City firemen walked into the crumbling towers, with no concern for their own wellbeing. Many succumbed; their sacrifice enabled great numbers to be saved.
This place of death became a place of life too, a place of saved lives, a hymn to the triumph of life over the prophets of destruction and death, to goodness over evil, to reconciliation and unity over hatred and division.
It is a source of great hope that in this place of sorrow and remembrance I can join with leaders representing the many religious traditions which enrich the life of this great city. I trust that our presence together will be a powerful sign of our shared desire to be a force for reconciliation, peace and justice in this community and throughout the world. For all our differences and disagreements, we can live in a world of peace. In opposing every attempt to create a rigid uniformity, we can and must build unity on the basis of our diversity of languages, cultures and religions, and lift our voices against everything which would stand in the way of such unity. Together we are called to say ‘no’ to every attempt to impose uniformity and ‘yes’ to a diversity accepted and reconciled.
This can only happen if we uproot from our hearts all feelings of hatred, vengeance and resentment. We know that that is only possible as a gift from heaven. Here, in this place of remembrance, I would ask everyone together, each in his or her own way, to spend a moment in silence and prayer. Let us implore from on high the gift of commitment to the cause of peace. Peace in our homes, our families, our schools and our communities. Peace in all those places where war never seems to end. Peace for those faces which have known nothing but pain. Peace throughout this world which God has given us as the home of all and a home for all. Simply peace.”
After a brief break for lunch, the Holy Father made his way to East Harlem to visit Our Lady Queen of Angels, a Catholic school that primarily serves Latino and Afro-American children. The students welcomed Pope Francis with songs and presentations on various school projects. Organized by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, the event brought the Holy Father together with refugees and migrants, including persons without immigration status, unaccompanied minors and day laborers. Visibly delighted, Pope Francis addressed the crowd, offering the students a positive perspective on immigration:
“They tell me that one of the nice things about this school [and this work] is that some of its students, [some of you], come from other places, [and many,] even from other countries. That is nice! Even though I know that it is not easy to have to move and find a new home, new neighbors and new friends. It is not easy. [But one must get started.] At the beginning it can be hard, right? Often you have to learn a new language, adjust to a new culture, even a new climate. There is so much to learn! And not just at school [but so many things, even how to play ball.]
The good thing is that we also make new friends. [The new friends we find.] We meet people who open doors for us, who are kind to us. They offer us friendship and understanding, and they try to help us not to feel like strangers, [foreigners. All the effort of people who help us to feel at home. Even though sometimes our imaginations return to our homelands, but we find good people who help us to feel at home.] How nice it is to feel that school, [the places we gather] are a second home. This is not only important for you, but also for your families. School then ends up being one big family. One where, together with our mothers and fathers, our grandparents, our teachers and friends, we learn to help one another, to share our good qualities, to give the best of ourselves, to work as a team, [to play as a team, which is so important] and to pursue our dreams.”
As he had in his address to Congress, Pope Francis again recalled Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream:
“His dream was that many children, many people could have equal opportunities. His dream was that many children like you could get an education. [He dreamed that many men and women like you could hold their heads high, with the dignity of one who can support himself.] It is beautiful to have dreams and [it is beautiful] to be able to fight for them. [Don’t forget this.]
Today we want to keep dreaming. We celebrate all the opportunities which enable you, and us adults, not to lose the hope of a better world with greater possibilities. [And so many people that I have greeted and that have introduced themselves to me, also dream with you. They dream of this and because of this, they have gotten involved in this work. They have gotten involved in your lives to accompany you on this path. We all dream.] I know that one of the dreams of your parents and teachers, [and all those who help you — and also Cardinal Dolan, eh? He is a very good man –] is that you can grow up and [can live with happiness.] It is always good to see children smiling. Here I see you smiling. Keep smiling and help bring joy to everyone you meet. [It’s not always easy. In every home, there are problems, there are difficult situations, there are illnesses. But don’t quit dreaming that you can live with joy.]”
Pope Francis left Our Lady Queen of Angels for a procession through Central Park, where he greeted an estimated 80,000 persons. He then traveled to Madison Square Garden to celebrate mass. In his homily, the Holy Father recounted the central biblical promise that: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1). He said that large cities offer a “reminder of the hidden riches present in our world: in the diversity of its cultures, traditions and historical experiences” and they “bring together all the different ways which we human beings have discovered to express the meaning of life, wherever we may be.” However, he also stated that cities can:
“… conceal the faces of all those people who don’t appear to belong, or are second-class citizens. In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath ‘the rapid pace of change,’ so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no ‘right’ to be there, no right to be part of the city. They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly. These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity. They become part of an urban landscape which is more and more taken for granted, in our eyes, and especially in our hearts.”
Pope Francis called on the 19,000 gathered and many more watching to:
“Go out to others and share the good news that God, our Father, walks at our side.. He frees us from anonymity, from a life of emptiness and selfishness, and brings us to the school of encounter. He removes us from the fray of competition and self-absorption, and he opens before us the path of peace. That peace which is born of accepting others, that peace which fills our hearts whenever we look upon those in need as our brothers and sisters.”
The Holy Father concluded his visit to New York City by proclaiming “God is in the city.”
Pope Francis departed Saturday morning for Philadelphia, where he will celebrate Mass at Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, visit Independence Mall, and join the Festival of Families at Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Prayer Vigil at the World Meeting of Families.
View Pope Francis’ full US schedule at http://www.popefrancisvisit.com/official-final-schedule-of-pope-francis-u-s-visit-2015/.
Watch live stream coverage of Pope Francis’ US visit at http://www.usccb.org/about/leadership/holy-see/francis/papal-visit-2015/papal-visit-2015-live-stream.cfm.