ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS POPE JOHN PAUL II TO THE FIFTIETH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE UNITED NATIONS ORGANIZATION

New York, October 5, 1995
 
Mr. President,Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. It is an honour for me to have the opportunity to addressthis international Assembly and to join the men and women ofevery country, race, language and culture in celebrating the fiftiethanniversary of the founding of the United Nations Organization. Incoming before this distinguished Assembly, I am vividly aware thatthrough you I am in some way addressing the wholefamily ofpeoples living on the face of the earth. My words are meant as a signof the interest and esteem of the Apostolic See and of the CatholicChurch for this Institution. They echo the voices of all those whosee in the United Nations the hope of a better future for humansociety.

I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude in the first place to theSecretary General, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, for having warmlyencouraged this visit. And I thank you Mr. President for yourcordial welcome. I greet all of you, the members of this GeneralAssembly: I am grateful for your presence and for your kindattention.

I come before you today with the desire to be able to contribute to that thoughtful meditation on the history and role of thisOrganization which should accompany and give substance to theanniversary celebrations. The Holy See, in virtue of its specificallyspiritual mission, which makes it concerned for the integral good ofevery human being, has supported the ideals and goals of the United Nations Organization from the very beginning. Although theirrespective purposes and operative approaches are obviously different,the Church and the United Nations constantly find wide areasof cooperation on the basis of their common concern for the humanfamily. It is this awareness which inspires my thoughts today;they will not dwell on any particular social, political, or economicquestion; rather, I would like to reflect with you on what theextraordinary changes of the last few years imply, not simply forthe present, but for the future of the whole human family.

A Common Human Patrimony

2. Ladies and Gentlemen! On the threshold of a new millenniumwe are witnessing an extraordinary global acceleration of that questfor freedom which is one of the great dynamics of human history.This phenomenon is not limited to any one part of the world; noris it the expression of any single culture. Men and women through-out the world, even when threatened by violence, have taken therisk of freedom, asking to be given a place in social, political, andeconomic life which is commensurate with their dignity as freehuman beings. This universal longing for freedom is truly one ofthe distinguishing marks of our time.

During my previous Visit to the United Nations on 2 October1979, I noted that the quest for freedom in our time has its basisin those universal rights which human beings enjoy by the very factof their humanity. It was precisely outrages against human dignitywhich led the United Nations organization to formulate, barelythree years after its estahlishment, that Universal Declaration ofHuman Rights which remains one of the highest expressions of thehuman conscience of our time. In Asia and Africa, in the Americas, in Oceania and Europe, men and women of conviction andcourage have appealed to this Declaration in support of theirclaims for a fuller share in the life of society.

3. It is important for us to grasp what might be called the innerstructure of this worldwide movement. It is precisely its global character which offers us its first and fundamental "key" and confirmsthat there are indeed universal human rights, rooted in the natureof the person, rights which reflect the objective and inviolable demands of a universal moral law. These are not abstract points;rather, these rights tell us something important about the actual lifeof every individual and of every social group. They also remind usthat we do not live in an irrational or meaningless world.On the contrary, there is a moral logic which is built into human life and whichmakes possible dialogue between individuals and peoples. If wewant a century of violent coercion to be succeeded by a century ofpersuasion, we must find a way to discuss the human future intelligibly.The universal moral law written on the human heart is preciselythat kind of "grammar" which is needed if the world is toengage this discussion of its future.

In this sense, it is a matter for serious concern that some peopletoday deny the universality of human rights, just as they denythat there is a human nature shared by everyone. To be sure, thereis no single model for organizing the politics and economics of human freedom; different cultures and different historical experiencesgive rise to different institutional forms of public life in a free andresponsible society. But it is one thing to affirm a legitimate pluralismof "forms of freedom", and another to deny any universality orintelligibility to the nature of man or to the human experience. Thelatter makes the international politics of persuasion extremelydifficult, if not impossible.

Taking the Risk of Freedom

4. The moral dynamics of this universal quest for freedom clearlyappeared in Central and Eastern Europe during the non-violentrevolutions of 1989. Unfolding in specific times and places, thosehistorical events nonetheless taught a lesson which goes far beyonda specific geographical location. For the non-violent revolutions of1989 demonstrated that the quest for freedom cannot be suppressed. Itarises from a recognition of the inestimable dignity and value of thehuman person, and it cannot fail to be accompanied by a commitment onbehalf of the human person. Modern totalitarianism has been, firstand foremost, an assault on the dignity of the person, an assaultwhich has gone even to the point of denying the inalienable valueof the individual's life. The revolutions of 1989 were made possibleby the commitment of brave men and women inspired by a different,and ultimately more profound and powerful, vision: the visionof man as a creature of intelligence and free will, immersed in amystery which transcends his own being and endowed with theability to reflect and the ability to choose--and thus capable ofwisdom and virtue. A decisive factor in the success of those non-violent revolutions was the experience of social solidarity:in the face of regimes backed by the power of propaganda and terror, thatsolidarity was the moral core of the "power of the powerless", abeacon of hope and an enduring reminder that it is possible forman's historical journey to follow a path which is true to the finestaspirations of the human spirit.

Viewing those events from this privileged international forum,one cannot fail to grasp the connection between the values whichinspired those people's liberation movements and many of themoral commitments inscribed in the United Nations Charter: I amthinking for example of the commitment to "reaffirm faith infundamental human rights (and) in the dignity and worth of thehuman person"; and also the commitment "to promote social progressand better standards of life in larger freedom" (Preamble). Thefifty-one States which founded this Organization in 1945 truly lit alamp whose light can scatter the darkness caused by tyranny--alight which can show the way to freedom, peace, and solidarity.

The Rights of Nations

5. The quest for freedom in the second half of the twentieth centuryhas engaged not only individuals but nations as well. Fiftyyears after the end of the Second World War, it is important toremember that that war was fought because of violations of the rightsof nations. Many of those nations suffered grievously for no otherreason than that they were deemed "other". Terrible crimes werecommitted in the name of lethal doctrines which taught the "inferiority"of some nations and cultures. In a certain sense, the UnitedNations Organization was born from a conviction that such doctrineswere antithetical to peace; and the Charter's commitment to"save future generations from the scourge of war" (Preamble) surelyimplied a moral commitment to defend every nation and culturefrom unjust and violent aggression.

Unfortunately, even after the end of the Second World War,the rights of nations continued to be violated. To take but one setof examples, the Baltic States and extensive territories in Ukraineand Belarus were absorbed into the Soviet Union, as had alreadyhappened to Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia in the Caucasus. Atthe same time the so-called "People's Democracies" of Central andEastern Europe effectively lost their sovereignty and were requiredto submit to the will dominating the entire bloc. The result of thisartificial division of Europe was the "cold war", a situation of international tension in which the threat of a nuclear holocaust hungover humanity. It was only when freedom was restored to the nations of Central and Eastern Europe that the promise of the peacewhich should have come with the end of the war began to be realizedfor many of the victims of that conflict.

6. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948,spoke eloquently of the rights of persons; but no similar internationalagreement has yet adequately addressed the rights of nations. Thissituation must be carefully pondered, for it raises urgent questionsabout justice and freedom in the world today.

In reality the problem of the full recognition of the rights ofpeoples and nations has presented itself repeatedly to the conscience of humanity, and has also given rise to considerable ethicaland juridical reflection. I am reminded of the debate which tookplace at the Council of Constance in the fifteenth century, whenthe representatives of the Academy of Krakow, headed by PawelWlodkowic, courageously defended the right of certain Europeanpeoples to existence and independence. Still better known is thediscussion which went on in that same period at the University ofSalamanca with regard to the peoples of the New World. And inour own century, how can I fail to mention the prophetic words ofmy predecessor, Pope Benedict XV, who in the midst of the FirstWorld War reminded everyone that "nations do not die", and invitedthem "to ponder with serene conscience the rights and the justaspirations of peoples" (To the Peoples at War and their Leaders, 28July 1915)?

7. Today the problem of nationalities forms part of a new worldhorizon marked by a great "mobility" which has blurred the ethnicand cultural frontiers of the different peoples, as a result of a varietyof processes such as migrations, mass-media and the globalizationof the economy. And yet, precisely against this horizon of universality we see the powerful re-emergence of certain ethnic andcultural consciousness, as it were an explosive need for identity andsurvival, a sort of counterweight to the tendency toward uniformity.This is a phenomenon which must not be underestimated and regarded as a simple left-over of the past. It demands serious interpretation, and a closer examination on the levels of anthropology,ethics and law.

This tension between the particular and the universal can beconsidered immanent in human beings. By virtue of sharing in thesame human nature, people automatically feel that they are membersof one great family, as is in fact the case. But as a result ofconcrete historical conditioning of this same nature, they arenecessarily bound in a more intense way to particular humangroups, beginning with the family and going on to the variousgroups to which they belong and up to the whole of their ethnicand cultural group, which is called, not by accident, a "nation",from the Latin word "nasci": "to be born". This term, enrichedwith another one, "patria" (fatherland/motherland), evokes the reality of the family. The human condition thus finds itself betweenthese two poles -- universality and particularity -- with a vitaltension between them; an inevitable tension, but singularly fruitfulif they are lived in a calm and balanced way.

8. Upon this anthropological foundation there also rest the "rightsof nations", which are nothing but "human rights" fostered at thespecific level of community life. A study of these rights is certainlynot easy, if we consider the difficulty of defining the very conceptof "nation", which cannot be identified a priori and necessarilywith the State. Such a study must nonetheless be made, if we wishto avoid the errors of the past and ensure a just world order.

A presupposition of a nation's rights is certainly its right to exist: therefore no one -- neither a State nor another nation, nor aninternational organization -- is ever justified in asserting that an individual nation is not worthy of existence. This fundamental right toexistence does not necessarily call for sovereignty as a state, sincevarious forms of juridical aggregation between different nations arepossible, as for example occurs in Federal States, in Confederationsor in States characterized by broad regional autonomies. There canbe historical circumstances in which aggregations different from singlestate sovereignty can even prove advisable, but only on conditionthat this takes place in a climate of true freedom, guaranteedby the exercise of the self-determination of the peoples concerned.Its right to exist naturally implies that every nation also enjoys theright to its own language and culture, through which a people expressesand promotes that which I would call its fundamental spiritual"sovereignty". History shows that in extreme circumstances(such as those which occurred in the land where I was born) it isprecisely its culture that enables a nation to survive the loss ofpolitical and economic independence. Every nation therefore has alsothe right to shape its life according to its own traditions, excluding,of course, every abuse of basic human rights and in particular theoppression of minorities. Every nation has the right to build its futureby providing an appropriate education for the younger generation.

But while the "rights of the nation" express the vital requirementsof "particularity", it is no less important to emphasize therequirements of universality, expressed through a clear awareness ofthe duties which nations have vis-a-vis other nations and humanityas a whole. Foremost among these duties is certainly that of livingin a spirit of peace, respect and solidarity with other nations. Thusthe exercise of the rights of nations, balanced by the acknowledgmentand the practice of duties, promotes a fruitful "exchange ofgifts", which strengthens the unity of all mankind.

Respect for Differences

9. During my pastoral pilgrimages to the communities of theCatholic Church over the past seventeen years, I have been able toenter into dialogue with the rich diversity of nations and culturesin every part of the world. Unhappily, the world has yet to learnhow to live with diversity, as recent events in the Balkans and CentralAfrica have painfully reminded us. The fact of "difference",and the reality of "the other", can sometimes be felt as a burden,or even as a threat. Amplified by historic grievances and exacerbatedby the manipulations of the unscrupulous, the fear of "difference"can lead to a denial of the very humanity of "the other": withthe result that people fall into a cycle of violence in which no oneis spared, not even the children. We are all very familiar today withsuch situations; at this moment my heart and my prayers turnin a special way to the sufferings of the sorely tried peoples ofBosnia-Hercegovina.

From bitter experience, then, we know that the fear of "difference",especially when it expresses itself in a narrow and exclusivenationalism which denies any rights to "the other", can lead to atrue nightmare of violence and terror. And yet if we make the effortto look at matters objectively, we can see that, transcending allthe differences which distinguish individuals and peoples, there is afundamental commonality. For different cultures are but differentways of facing the question of the meaning of personal existence.And it is precisely here that we find one source of the respectwhich is due to every culture and every nation: every culture is aneffort to ponder the mystery of the world and in particular of the hu-man person: it is a way of giving expression to the transcendent dimen-sion of human life. The heart of every culture is its approach to thegreatest of all mysteries: the mystery of God.

10. Our respect for the culture of others is therefore rooted inour respect for each community's attempt to answer the questionof human life. And here we can see how important it is to safe-guard the fundamental right to freedom of religion and freedom of con-science, as the cornerstones of the structure of human rights andthe foundation of every truly free society. No one is permitted tosuppress those rights by using coercive power to impose an answerto the mystery of man.

To cut oneself off from the reality of difference--or, worse,to attempt to stamp out that difference--is to cut oneself offfrom the possibility of sounding the depths of the mystery ofhuman life. The truth about man is the unchangeable standard bywhich all cultures are judged; but every culture has something toteach us about one or other dimension of that complex truth. Thusthe "difference" which some find so threatening can, throughrespectful dialogue, become the source of a deeper understandingof the mystery of human existence.

11. In this context, we need to clarify the essential differencebetween an unhealthy form of nationalism, which teaches contempt forother nations or cultures, and patriotism, which is a proper love ofone's country. True patriotism never seeks to advance the well-beingof one's own nation at the expense of others. For in the endthis would harm one's own nation as well: doing wrong damagesboth aggressor and victim. Nationalism, particularly in its most radicalforms, is thus the antithesis of true patriotism, and today wemust ensure that extreme nationalism does not continue to give riseto new forms of the aberrations of totalitarianism. This is a com-mitment which also holds true, obviously, in cases where religion it-self is made the basis of nationalism, as unfortunately happens incertain manifestations of so-called "fundamentalism".

Freedom and Moral Truth

12. Ladies and Gentlemen! Freedom is the measure of man's dignityand greatness. Living the freedom sought by individuals and peoplesis a great challenge to man's spiritual growth and to the moralvitality of nations. The basic question which we must all face todayis the responsible use of freedom, in both its personal and socialdimensions. Our reflection must turn then to the question of themoral structure of freedom, which is the inner architecture of theculture of freedom.

Freedom is not simply the absence of tyranny or oppression.Nor is freedom a license to do whatever we like. Freedom has aninner "logic" which distinguishes it and ennobles it: freedom isordered to the truth, and is fulfilled in man's quest for truth and inman's living in the truth. Detached from the truth about the hu-man person, freedom deteriorates into license in the lives of indi-viduals and, in political life, it becomes the caprice of the mostpowerful and the arrogance of power. Far from being a limitationupon freedom or a threat to it, reference to the truth about thehuman person--a truth universally knowable through the morallaw written on the hearts of all-- is, in fact, the guarantor offreedom's future.

13. In the light of what has been said we understand how utili-tarianism, the doctrine which defines morality not in terms of whatis good but of what is advantageous, threatens the freedom of indi-viduals and nations and obstructs the building of a true culture offreedom. Utilitarianism often has devastating political consequences,because it inspires an aggressive nationalism on the basis of whichthe subjugation, for example, of a smaller or weaker nation isclaimed to be a good thing solely because it corresponds to the na-tional interest. No less grave are the results of economic utilitarian-ism, which drives more powerful countries to manipulate and ex-ploit weaker ones.

Nationalistic and economic utilitarianism are sometimes com-bined, a phenomenon which has too often characterized relationsbetween the "North" and the "South". For the emerging countries,the achievement of political independence has too frequently beenaccompanied by a situation of de facto economic dependence onother countries; indeed, in some cases, the developing world hassuffered a regression, such that some countries lack the means ofsatisfying the essential needs of their people. Such situations offendthe conscience of humanity and pose a formidable moral challengeto the human family. Meeting this challenge will obviously requirechanges in both developing and developed countries. If developingcountries are able to offer sure guarantees of the proper manage-ment of resources and of assistance received, as well as respect forhuman rights, by replacing where necessary unjust, corrupt, or au-thoritarian forms of government with participatory and democraticones, will they not in this way unleash the best civil and economicenergies of their people? And must not the developed countries,for their part, come to renounce strictly utilitarian approaches anddevelop new approaches inspired by greater justice and solidarity?

Yes, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen! The internationaleconomic scene needs an ethic of solidarity, if participation, econom-ic growth, and a just distribution of goods are to characterize thefuture of humanity. The international cooperation called for by theCharter of the United Nations for "solving international problemsof an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character" ( art.1.3) cannot be conceived exclusively in terms of help and assis-tance, or even by considering the eventual returns on the resourcesprovided. When millions of people are suffering from a povertywhich means hunger, malnutrition, sickness, illiteracy, and degrada-tion, we must not only remind ourselves that no one has a right toexploit another for his own advantage, but also and above all wemust recommit ourselves to that solidarity which enables others tolive out, in the actual circumstances of their economic and politicallives, the creativity which is a distinguishing mark of the humanperson and the true source of the wealth of nations in today's world.

The United Nations and the Future of Freedom

14. As we face these enormous challenges, how can we fail to ac-knowledge the role of the United Nations Organization? Fifty yearsafter its founding, the need for such an Organization is even moreobvious, but we also have a better understanding, on the basis ofexperience, that the effectiveness of this great instrument for har-monizing and coordinating international life depends on the inter-national culture and ethic which it supports and expresses. TheUnited Nations Organization needs to rise more and more abovethe cold status of an administrative institution and to become amoral centre where all the nations of the world feel at home anddevelop a shared awareness of being, as it were, a "family of na-tions". The idea of "family" immediately evokes something morethan simple functional relations or a mere convergence of interests.The family is by nature a community based on mutual trust, mutu-al support and sincere respect. In an authentic family the strong donot dominate; instead, the weaker members, because of their veryweakness, are all the more welcomed and served.

Raised to the level of the "family of nations", these sentimentsought to be, even before law itself, the very fabric of relations be-tween peoples. The United Nations has the historic, even momen-tous, task of promoting this qualitative leap in international life, notonly by serving as a centre of effective mediation for the resolutionof conflicts but also by fostering values, attitudes and concrete ini-tiatives of solidarity which prove capable of raising the level of rela-tions between nations from the "organizational" to a more "organ-ic" level, from simple "existence with" others to "existence for"others, in a fruitful exchange of gifts, primarily for the good of theweaker nations but even so, a clear harbinger of greater good foreveryone.

15. Only on this condition shall we attain an end not only to"wars of combat" but also to "cold wars". It will ensure not onlythe legal equality of all peoples but also their active participation inthe building of a better future, and not only respect for individualcultural identities, but full esteem for them as a common treasurebelonging to the cultural patrimony of mankind. Is this not the idealheld up by the Charter of the United Nations when it sets as thebasis of the Organization "the principle of the sovereign equality ofall its Members" (art. 2.1), or when it commits it to "developfriendly relations between nations based on respect for the principleof equal rights and of self-determination" (art. 1.2)? This is thehigh road which must be followed to the end, even if this involves,when necessary, appropriate modifications in the operating modelof the United Nations, so as to take into account everything thathas happened in this half century, with so many new peoples expe-riencing freedom and legitimately aspiring to "be" and to "countfor" more.

None of this should appear an unattainable utopia. Now is thetime for new hope, which calls us to expel the paralyzing burden ofcynicism from the future of politics and of human life. Theanniversary which we are celebrating invites us to do this byreminding us of the idea of "united nations", an idea whichbespeaks mutual trust, security and solidarity. Inspired by theexample of all those who have taken the risk of freedom, can wenot recommit ourselves also to taking the risk of solidarity andthus the risk of peace?

Beyond Fear: the Civilization of Love

16. It is one of the great paradoxes of our time that man, whobegan the period we call "modernity" with a self-confident asser-tion of his "coming of age" and "autonomy", approaches the endof the twentieth century fearful of himself, fearful of what he mightbe capable of, fearful for the future. Indeed, the second half of thetwentieth century has seen the unprecedented phenomenon of ahumanity uncertain about the very likelihood of a future, given thethreat of nuclear war. That danger, mercifully, appears to have re-ceded--and everything that might make it return needs to be re-jected firmly and universally; all the same, fear for the future and ofthe future remains.

In order to ensure that the new millennium now approachingwill witness a new flourishing of the human spirit, mediatedthrough an authentic culture of freedom, men and women mustlearn to conquer fear. We must learn not to be afraid, we must re-discover a spirit of hope and a spirit of trust. Hope is not emptyoptimism springing from a naive confidence that the future willnecessarily be better than the past. Hope and trust are the premiseof responsible activity and are nurtured in that inner sanctuary ofconscience where "man is alone with God" (Gaudium et Spes, 16)and thus perceives that he is not alone amid the enigmas ofexistence, for he is surrounded by the love of the Creator!

Hope and trust: these may seem matters beyond the purview ofthe United Nations. But they are not. The politics of nations, withwhich your Organization is principally concerned, can never ignorethe transcendent, spiritual dimension of the human experience, andcould never ignore it without harming the cause of man and thecause of human freedom. Whatever diminishes man--whatevershortens the horizon of man's aspiration to goodness--harms thecause of freedom. In order to recover our hope and our trust atthe end of this century of sorrows, we must regain sight of thattranscendent horizon of possibility to which the soul of man aspires.

17. As a Christian, my hope and trust are centered on JesusChrist, the two thousandth anniversary of whose birth will be cele-brated at the coming of the new millennium. We Christians believethat in his Death and Resurrection were fully revealed God's loveand his care for all creation. Jesus Christ is for us God made man,and made a part of the history of humanity. Precisely for this reason,Christian hope for the world and its future extends to every human per-son. Because of the radiant humanity of Christ, nothing genuinelyhuman fails to touch the hearts of Christians. Faith in Christ doesnot impel us to intolerance. On the contrary, it obliges us to en-gage others in a respectful dialogue. Love of Christ does not dis-tract us from interest in others, but rather invites us to respons-ibility for them, to the exclusion of no one and indeed, if anything,with a special concern for the weakest and the suffering. Thus, aswe approach the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of Christ,the Church asks only to be able to propose respectfully this mes-sage of salvation, and to be able to promote, in charity and service,the solidarity of the entire human family.

Ladies and Gentlemen! I come before you, as did my predeces-sor Pope Paul VI exactly thirty years ago, not as one who exercisestemporal power--these are his words--nor as a religious leaderseeking special privileges for his community. I come before you asa witness: a witness to human dignity, a witness to hope, a witnessto the conviction that the destiny of all nations lies in the hands ofa merciful Providence.

18. We must overcome our fear of the future. But we will not beable to overcome it completely unless we do so together. The "answer"to that fear is neither coercion nor repression, nor the impositionof one social "model" on the entire world. The answer to the fearwhich darkens human existence at the end of the twentieth centuryis the common effort to build the civilization of love, founded onthe universal values of peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty. Andthe "soul" of the civilization of love is the culture of freedom: thefreedom of individuals and the freedom of nations, lived in self-giv-ing solidarity and responsibility.

We must not be afraid of the future. We must not be afraid ofman. It is no accident that we are here. Each and every humanperson has been created in the "image and likeness" of the Onewho is the origin of all that is. We have within us the capacitiesfor wisdom and virtue. With these gifts, and with the help of God's grace, we can build in the next century and the next millen-nium a civilization worthy of the human person, a true culture offreedom. We can and must do so! And in doing so, we shall seethat the tears of this century have prepared the ground for a newspringtime of the human spirit.


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