This is a part of a series of dispatches correspondent Tom Murphy is writing from New York during the U.N. General Assembly and all the related events.
Pope Francis kicked off the U.N. General Assembly today with a speech in front of member nations. The leader of the Roman Catholic Church discussed poverty, the environment and the refugee crisis, as expected.
The speech came ahead of U.N. member nations accepting the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Much is being made of the goals, and efforts to raise their status will continue through the weekend. However, the Pope managed to set out a development vision of his own in his speech today.
He discussed the need for the world’s poor to lead the way in improving their own lives. The new goals did include consultations and surveys involving millions of people, but the final targets were hammered out behind closed doors and through a high-level panel. For the Pope, the poor have to remain at the center going forward:
To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny. Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold for each individual, for every family, in 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, etc. This presupposes and requires the right to education – also for girls (excluded in certain places) – which is ensured first and foremost by respecting and reinforcing the primary right of the family to educate its children, as well as the right of churches and social groups to support and assist families in the education of their children. Education conceived in this way is the basis for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and for reclaiming the environment.
Realizing that cannot happen in a vacuum. The Pope said leaders of governments are responsible for providing the protections and assistance to the most vulnerable. There are basic needs for every family that must be met.
At the same time, government leaders must 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.
Most important of all, achieving the goals set out today requires doing everything possible to protect the rights of every person in the world. A challenge from the Pope to the world’s powerful reminds that the need to ensure justice and dignity are paramount.
It must never be forgotten 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 programs, 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.
Read the Pope’s full speech here.