The Fourth Day of Pope Francis’ Mission to the American People

On Friday, September 25 (the fourth day of the mission to the American people) Pope Francis’ audience was in fact the whole world, when he went to the headquarters of the United Nations in east midtown Manhattan to speak briefly to U.N. employees and then extensively to the U.N. General Assembly. Francis next was driven to lower Manhattan’s 9/11 Memorial and Museum, where he participated in a multifaith worship service. In the afternoon he visited Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem. Afterwards in his popemobile, he motored through Central Park to go to Madison Square Garden, the site of a mass.[1]

United Nations Employees[2]

The Pope told U.N. employees, “The vast majority of the work done here is not of the kind that makes the news. Behind the scenes, your daily efforts make possible many of the diplomatic, cultural, economic and political initiatives of the United Nations, which are so important for meeting the hopes and expectations of the peoples who make up our human family. You are experts and experienced fieldworkers, officials and secretaries, translators and interpreters, cleaners and cooks, maintenance and security personnel. Thank you for all that you do!”

“Your quiet and devoted work not only contributes to the betterment of the United Nations. It also has great significance for you personally. For how we work expresses our dignity and the kind of persons we are.”

“Many of you have come to this city from countries the world over. As such, you are a microcosm of the peoples whom this organization represents and seeks to serve. Like so many other people worldwide, you are concerned about your children’s welfare and education. You worry about the future of the planet, and what kind of a world we will leave for future generations. But today, and everyday, I would ask each of you, whatever your capacity, to care for one another. Be close to one another, respect one another, and so embody among yourselves this organization’s ideal of a united human family, living in harmony, working not only for peace, but in peace; working not only for justice, but in a spirit of justice.”

“Dear friends, I bless each one of you from my heart. I will pray for you and your families, and I ask each of you, please, to remember to pray for me. And if any of you are not believers, I ask you to wish me well. God bless you all.”

United Nations General Assembly[3]

 

Pope Francis @ U.N. General Assembly
Pope Francis @ U.N. General Assembly

My predecessors have “expressed their great esteem for the Organization, which they considered the appropriate juridical and political response to this present moment of history, marked by our technical ability to overcome distances and frontiers and, apparently, to overcome all natural limits to the exercise of power. An essential response, inasmuch as technological power, in the hands of nationalistic or falsely universalist ideologies, is capable of perpetrating tremendous atrocities. I can only reiterate the appreciation expressed by my predecessors, in reaffirming the importance which the Catholic Church attaches to this Institution and the hope which she places in its activities.”

“The United Nations is presently celebrating its seventieth anniversary. The history of this organized community of states is one of important common achievements over a period of unusually fast- paced changes. Without claiming to be exhaustive, we can mention 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 peacekeeping and reconciliation, and any number of other accomplishments in every area of international activity and endeavor. All these achievements are lights that help to dispel the darkness of the disorder caused by unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness. Certainly, many grave problems remain to be resolved, yet it is clear that, without all those interventions on the international level, mankind would not have been able to survive the unchecked use of its own possibilities. Every one of these political, juridical and technical advances is a path towards attaining the ideal of human fraternity and a means for its greater realization.”

“For this reason I pay homage to all those men and women whose loyalty and self-sacrifice have benefited humanity as a whole in these past seventy years. In particular, I would recall today those who gave their lives for peace and reconciliation among peoples, from Dag Hammarskjöld to the many United Nations officials at every level who have been killed in the course of humanitarian missions, and missions of peace and reconciliation.”

“Beyond these achievements, the experience of the past seventy years has made it clear that reform and adaptation to the times is always necessary in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of granting all countries, without exception, a share in, and a genuine and equitable influence on, decision-making processes. The need for greater equity is especially true in the case of those bodies with effective executive capability, such as the Security Council, the Financial Agencies and the groups or mechanisms specifically created to deal with economic crises. This will help limit every kind of abuse or usury, especially where developing countries are concerned. The International Financial Agencies are should care for the sustainable development of countries and should ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.”

“The work of the United Nations, according to the principles set forth in the Preamble and the first Articles of its founding Charter, can be seen as the development and promotion of the rule of law, based on the realization that justice is an essential condition for achieving the ideal of universal fraternity. In this context, it is helpful to recall that the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself. To give to each his own, to cite the classic definition of 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. The effective distribution of power (political, economic, defense-related, technological, etc.) among a plurality of subjects, and the creation of a juridical system for regulating claims and interests, are one concrete way of limiting power. Yet today’s world presents us with many false rights and – at the same time – broad sectors which are vulnerable, victims of power badly exercised: for example, the natural environment and the vast ranks of the excluded. These sectors are closely interconnected and made increasingly fragile by dominant political and economic relationships. That is why their rights must be forcefully affirmed, by working to protect the environment and by putting an end to exclusion.”

“First, it must be stated that a true “right of the environment” does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which ‘are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology’ (Laudato Si’, 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favorable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity. Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good (cf. ibid.).”

“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’”.

“The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit, which opens today, is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.”

“Solemn commitments, however, are not enough, even though they are a necessary step toward solutions. The classic definition of justice which I mentioned earlier contains as one of its essential elements a constant and perpetual will: Iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius sum cuique tribuendi. Our world demands of all government leaders a will which is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible 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 labor, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime. Such is the magnitude of these situations and their toll in innocent lives, that we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges.”

“The number and complexity of the problems require that we possess technical instruments of verification. But this involves two risks. We can rest content with the bureaucratic exercise of drawing up long lists of good proposals – goals, objectives and statistical indicators – or we can think that a single theoretical and aprioristic solution will provide an answer to all the challenges. 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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“For all this, the simplest and best measure and indicator of the implementation of the new Agenda for development will be effective, practical and immediate access, on the part of all, to essential material and spiritual goods: housing, dignified and properly remunerated employment, adequate food and drinking water; religious freedom and, more generally, spiritual freedom and education. These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.”

“The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species. The baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for wealth and power, must serve as a summons to a forthright reflection on man: “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature” (BENEDICT XVI, Address to the Bundestag, 22 September 2011, cited in Laudato Si’, 6). Creation is compromised “where we ourselves have the final word… The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any instance above ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves” (ID. Address to the Clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone, 6 August 2008, cited ibid.). Consequently, the defense of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman (cf. Laudato Si’, 155), and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions (cf. ibid., 123, 136).”

“Without the recognition of certain incontestable natural ethical limits and without the immediate implementation of those pillars of integral human development, the ideal of “saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war” (Charter of the United Nations, Preamble), and “promoting social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” (ibid.), risks becoming an unattainable illusion, or, even worse, idle chatter which serves as a cover for all kinds of abuse and corruption, or for carrying out an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.”

“War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between peoples.”

“To this end, there is a need to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation and arbitration, as proposed by the Charter of the United Nations, which constitutes truly a fundamental juridical norm. The experience of these seventy years since the founding of the United Nations in general, and in particular the experience of these first fifteen years of the third millennium, reveal both the effectiveness of the full application of international norms and the ineffectiveness of their lack of enforcement. When the Charter of the United Nations is respected and applied with transparency and sincerity, and without ulterior motives, as an obligatory reference point of justice and not as a means of masking spurious intentions, peaceful results will be obtained. When, on the other hand, the norm is considered simply as an instrument to be used whenever it proves favorable, and to be avoided when it is not, a true Pandora’s box is opened, releasing uncontrollable forces which gravely harm defenseless populations, the cultural milieu and even the biological environment.”

“The Preamble and the first Article of the Charter of the United Nations set forth the foundations of the international juridical framework: peace, the pacific solution of disputes and the development of friendly relations between the nations. Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass distraction, such as nuclear weapons. An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust”. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the nonproliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.”

“The recent agreement reached on the nuclear question in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy. I express my hope that this agreement will be lasting and efficacious, and bring forth the desired fruits with the cooperation of all the parties involved.”

“In this sense, hard evidence is not lacking of the negative effects of military and political interventions which are not coordinated between members of the international community. For this reason, while regretting to have to do so, 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.”

“Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade. A war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption. A corruption which has penetrated to different levels of social, political, military, artistic and religious life, and, in many cases, has given rise to a parallel structure which threatens the credibility of our institutions.”

“I began this speech recalling the visits of my predecessors. I would hope that my words will be taken above all as a continuation of the final words of the address of Pope Paul VI; although spoken almost exactly fifty years ago, they remain ever timely. “The hour has come when a pause, a moment of recollection, reflection, even of prayer, is absolutely needed so that we may think back over our common origin, our history, our common destiny. The appeal to the moral conscience of man has never been as necessary as it is today… For the danger comes neither from progress nor from science; if these are used well, they can help to solve a great number of the serious problems besetting mankind (Address to the United Nations Organization, 4 October 1965). Among other things, human genius, well applied, will surely help to meet the grave challenges of ecological deterioration and of exclusion. As Paul VI said: “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” (ibid.).”

“The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and 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. This common home of all men and women must also be built on the understanding of a certain sacredness of created nature.”

“Such understanding and respect call for a higher degree of wisdom, one which accepts transcendence, rejects the creation of an all-powerful elite, and recognizes that the full meaning of individual and collective life is found in selfless service to others and in the sage and respectful use of creation for the common good. To repeat the words of Paul VI, ‘the edifice of modern civilization has to be built on spiritual principles, for they are the only ones capable not only of supporting it, but of shedding light on it’ (ibid.).”

“El Gaucho Martín Fierro, a classic of literature in my native land, says: ‘Brothers should stand by each other, because this is the first law; keep a true bond between you always, at every time – because if you fight among yourselves, you’ll be devoured by those outside.’”

“The contemporary world, so apparently connected, is experiencing a growing and steady social fragmentation, which places at risk ‘the foundations of social life” and consequently leads to “battles over conflicting interests’ (Laudato Si’, 229).”

“The present time invites us to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society, so as to bear fruit in significant and positive historical events (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 223). We cannot permit ourselves to postpone ‘certain agendas’ for the future. The future demands of us critical and global decisions in the face of worldwide conflicts which increase the number of the excluded and those in need.”

“The praiseworthy international juridical framework of the United Nations Organization and of all its activities, like any other human endeavor, can be improved, yet it remains necessary; at the same time it can be the pledge of a secure and happy future for future generations. And so it will, if the representatives of the States can set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good. I pray to Almighty God that this will be the case, and I assure you of my support and my prayers, and the support and prayers of all the faithful of the Catholic Church, that this Institution, all its member States, and each of its officials, will always render an effective service to mankind, a service respectful of diversity and capable of bringing out, for sake of the common good, the best in each people and in every individual.”

9/11 Memorial and Museum[4]

Francis paused at the reflecting pools marking the footprints of the Twin Towers destroyed in the attacks and where 2,606 people died after Islamist militants of al Qaeda crashed hijacked jetliners into the buildings. Overall, 2,977 victims died and the 19 hijackers of four planes they commandeered. Here the Pope met family members of six people killed in the attacks, including five who worked in the towers and a flight attendant who had been on one of the hijacked aircraft.

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Joined by a dozen religious leaders from the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Greek Orthodox traditions, Francis spoke to a crowd of about 700 people in an underground gallery at the Museum. To the right is a photograph of the Pope with a rabbi and an imam.

Here is what he said: “I feel many different emotions standing here at Ground Zero, where thousands of lives were taken in a senseless act of destruction. Here grief is palpable. The water we see flowing towards that empty pit reminds us of all those lives which fell prey to those who think that destruction, tearing down, is the only way to settle conflicts. It is the silent cry of those who were victims of a mindset which knows only violence, hatred and revenge. A mindset which can only cause pain, suffering, destruction and tears.”

“The flowing water is also a symbol of our tears. Tears at so much devastation and ruin, past and present. This is a place where we shed tears, we weep out of a sense of helplessness in the face of injustice, murder, and the failure to settle conflicts through dialogue. Here we mourn the wrongful and senseless loss of innocent lives because of the inability to find solutions which respect the common good. This flowing water reminds us of yesterday’s tears, but also of all the tears still being shed today.”

“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.”

“In this place of sorrow and remembrance I am filled with hope, as I have the opportunity to 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 experience 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. Let us pray in silence.”

“In this way, the lives of our dear ones will not be lives which will one day be forgotten. Instead, they will be present whenever we strive to be prophets not of tearing down but of building up, prophets of reconciliation, prophets of peace.”

After his remarks, Francis viewed relics of the 9/11 Memorial Museum. They included a cross formed of fused steel girders found in the towers’ smoldering wreckage and a copy of the New Testament found in the debris that is displayed Harlem

open to the Gospel passage in which Jesus urges believers to “turn the other cheek” rather than strike back.

Our Lady Queen of Angels School[5]

images

In the afternoon, Francis visited Our Lady Queen of Angels School,  a Roman Catholic elementary school that has served the East Harlem Community for over 120 years with a high quality, well-rounded education, rooted in Gospel values and attentive to individual differences. There he was greeted by students and faculty as seen in the photograph to the left.

His remarks included the following: “They tell me that one of the nice things about this school is that some of its students come from other places, 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. 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.”

“The good thing is that we also make new friends, 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. To feel at home. How nice it is to feel that school is 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 and to pursue our dreams.”

“Reverend Martin Luther King . . . said, ‘I have a 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. It is beautiful to have dreams and to be able to fight for them.”

“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. I know that one of the dreams of your parents and teachers is that you can grow up and be happy. It is always good to see children smiling. Here I see you smiling. Keep smiling and help bring joy to everyone you meet.”

“Dear children, you have a right to dream and I am very happy that here in this school, in your friends and your teachers, you can find the support you need. Wherever there are dreams, there is joy, Jesus is always present. Because Jesus is joy, and he wants to help us to feel that joy every day of our lives.”

“Please don’t forget to pray for me, so that I can share with many people the joy of Jesus. And let us also pray so that many other people can share the joy like yours.”

Motorcade through Central Park[6]

At least 80,000 people crowded Manhattan’s Central Park to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis as his popemobile made its way to Madison Square Garden. Here are some photographs of that event.

Crowds CentPark

Popemobile 9.25

Madison Square Garden[7]

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At Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, famed for its sporting events, Pope Francis celebrated mass before a congregation of 20,000. To the left is a photograph of the Pope during his his homily, when he said the following: “In this place, which represents both the variety and the common interests of so many different people, we have listened to the words: ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’ (Is 9:1).”

“The people who walked – caught up in their activities and routines, amid their successes and failures, their worries and expectations – have seen a great light. The people who walked – with all their joys and hopes, their disappointments and regrets – have seen a great light.”

“In every age, the People of God are called to contemplate this light. A light for the nations, as the elderly Simeon joyfully expressed it. A light meant to shine on every corner of this city, on our fellow citizens, on every part of our lives.”

“’The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.’ One special quality of God’s people is their ability to see, to contemplate, even in ‘moments of darkness,’ the light which Christ brings. God’s faithful people can see, discern and contemplate his living presence in the midst of life, in the midst of the city.”

“Together with the prophet Isaiah, we can say: The people who walk, breathe and live in the midst of smog, have seen a great light, have experienced a breath of fresh air.

Living in a big city is not always easy. A multicultural context presents many complex challenges. Yet big cities are a reminder of the hidden riches present in our world: in the diversity of its cultures, traditions and historical experiences. In the variety of its languages, costumes and cuisine. Big cities bring together all the different ways which we human beings have discovered to express the meaning of life, wherever we may be.

But big cities also 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.”

“Knowing that Jesus still walks our streets, that he is part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope. A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others, for the life of our city. A hope which frees us from empty‘connections,’ from abstract analyses, or sensationalist routines. A hope which is unafraid of involvement, which acts as a leaven wherever we happen to live and work. A hope which makes us see, even in the midst of smog, the presence of God as he continues to walk the streets of our city. Because God is in the city.”

“What is it like, this light travelling through our streets? How do we encounter God, who lives with us amid the smog of our cities? How do we encounter Jesus, alive and at work in the daily life of our multicultural cities?”

“The prophet Isaiah can guide us in this process of ‘learning to see.’ He speaks of the light which is Jesus. And now he presents Jesus to us as ‘Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.’ In this way, he introduces us to the life of the Son, so that his life can be our life.”

Wonderful Counselor. The Gospels tell us how many people came up to Jesus to ask: ‘Master, what must we do?’ The first thing that Jesus does in response is to propose, to encourage, to motivate. He keeps telling his disciples to go, to go out. He urges them to go out and meet others where they really are, not where we think they should be. Go out, again and again, go out without fear, go out without hesitation. Go out and proclaim this joy which is for all the people.”

The Mighty God. In Jesus, God himself became Emmanuel, God-with-us, the God who walks alongside us, who gets involved in our lives, in our homes, in the midst of our ‘pots and pans,’ as Saint Teresa of Jesus liked to say.”

The Everlasting Father. No one or anything can separate us from his Love. Go out and proclaim, go out and show that God is in your midst as a merciful Father who himself goes out, morning and evening, to see if his son has returned home and, as soon as he sees him coming, runs out to embrace him. This is beautiful. An embrace which wants to take up, purify and elevate the dignity of his children. A Father who, in his embrace, is ‘glad tidings to the poor, healing to the afflicted, liberty to captives, comfort to those who mourn’ (Is 61:1-2).”

Prince of Peace. 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 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.”

“God is living in our cities. The Church is living in our cities. God and the Church living in our cities want to be like yeast in the dough, to relate to everyone, to stand at everyone’s side, proclaiming the marvels of the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Eternal Father, the Prince of Peace.”

“’The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.’ And we, as Christians, are witnesses to this.”

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[1] An overall website on Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. is “Pope Francis Visit 2015.”

[2] Pope Francis’ Remarks to United Nations Staff, N.Y. Times (Sept. 25, 2015)

[3] Pope Francis’ Remarks to the United Nations General Assembly, N.Y. Times (Sept. 25, 2015); AFP, Pope Addresses the United Nations, N.Y. Times (Sept. 25, 2015) (video); Pope Francis Addresses U.N., Calling for Peace and Environmental Justice, N.Y. Times (Sept. 25, 2015).

[4] Pope Francis’ Speech at 9/11 Memorial Museum (Sept. 25, 2015); Agence France-Presse, Pope Visits Ground Zero (Sept. 25, 2015) (video); Reuters, Resist Uniformity, Embrace Diversity: Pope at New York Attack Site, N.Y. Times (Sept. 25, 2015).

[5] Pope Francis’ Remarks at The Our Lady Queen of Angels School, abc6 Action News (Sept. 25, 2015).

[6] Baker, Mueller & Poderaro, Rib-Crushing Throngs Press Toward Central Park to See Pope Francis, N.Y. Times (Sept. 25, 2015).

[7] Wilson, Pope Francis, in New York, Takes on Extremism and Inequality, N.Y. Times (Sept. 25, 2015); Pope Francis’ Madison Square Garden Homily (Sept. 25, 2015); Agence France-Presse, Pope Celebrates Mass in New York, N.Y. Times (Sept. 25, 2015)(video).

 

 

Presidents Obama and Castro Speak and Meet at United Nations

Over the last week Cuban President Raúl Castro has made two speeches at the United Nations in New York City as has U.S. President Barack Obama. Afterwards the two of them with advisors held a private meeting at the U.N. with subsequent comments by their spokesmen. Here is a chronological account of these events.

President Castro’s September 26th Speech[1]

 

On September 26, President Raúl Castro 11131154waddressed the U.N. Summit on Sustainable Development, as shown in the photograph to the right. In his remarks he said, ”The reestablishment of diplomatic relations Between Cuba and the United States of America, the opening of embassies and the policy changes announced by President Barack Obama . . . constitute a major progress, which has elicited the broadest support of the international community.”

However, he added, “the economic, commercial and financial blockade [by the U.S.] against Cuba persists bringing damages and hardships on the Cuban people, and standing as the main obstacle to our country’s economic development, while affecting other nations due to its extraterritorial scope and hurting the interests of American citizens and companies. Such policy is rejected by 188 United Nations member states that demand its removal.”

More generally Castro condemned “the pervasive underdevelopment afflicting two-thirds of the world population” and the widening “gap between the North and the South” and “wealth polarization.”

Thus, he argued, “If we wish to make this a habitable world with peace and harmony among nations, with democracy and social justice, dignity and respect for the human rights of every person, we should adopt as soon as possible concrete commitments in terms of development assistance, and resolve the debt issue.” Such a commitment, he said, would require “a new international financial architecture, removal of the monopoly on technology and knowledge and changing the present international economic order.”

Nevertheless, according to President Castro, Cuba will continue to help other developing nations despite its limited capabilities and “shall never renounce its honor, human solidarity and social justice” that “are deeply rooted in our socialist society.”

President Obama’s September 27th Speech[2]

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On September 27, President Obama addressed the same U.N. Summit on Sustainable Development without touching on U.S.-Cuba relations. Instead he concentrated on the purpose of the Summit– sustainable development. (His photograph is to the left.)

He started by rejecting the notion that “our efforts to combat poverty and disease do not and cannot work, that there are some places beyond hope, that certain people and regions are condemned to an endless cycle of suffering.” Instead, he asserted, “the global hunger rate has already been slashed.  Tens of millions of more boys and girls are today in school.  Prevention and treatment of measles and malaria and tuberculosis have saved nearly 60 million lives.  HIV/AIDS infections and deaths have plummeted.  And more than one billion people have lifted themselves up from extreme poverty — one billion.”

Nevertheless, much remains to be done, according to Obama, and the nations at this Summit “commit ourselves to new Sustainable Development Goals, including our goal of ending extreme poverty in our world.  We do so understanding how difficult the task may be.  We suffer no illusions of the challenges ahead.  But we understand this is something that we must commit ourselves to.  Because in doing so, we recognize that our most basic bond — our common humanity — compels us to act.”

In this work, President Obama stated, the U.S. “will continue to be your partner.  Five years ago, I pledged here that America would remain the global leader in development, and the United States government, in fact, remains the single largest donor of development assistance, including in global health.  In times of crisis — from Ebola to Syria — we are the largest provider of humanitarian aid.  In times of disaster and crisis, the world can count on the friendship and generosity of the American people.”

Therefore, Obama said, he was “committing the United States to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals” and to “keep fighting for the education and housing and health care and jobs that reduce inequality and create opportunity here in the United States and around the world.” This effort will include other “governments, more institutions, more businesses, more philanthropies, more NGOs, more faith communities, more citizens.” Moreover, the “next chapter of development must also unleash economic growth — not just for a few at the top, but inclusive, sustainable growth that lifts up the fortunes of the many.”

President Obama concluded by noting these obstacles to achieving these goals: bad governance; corruption; inequality; “old attitudes, especially those that deny rights and opportunity to women;” failure to “recognize the incredible dynamism and opportunity of today’s Africa;” war; and climate change

President Obama’s September 28th Speech[3]

 In a wide-ranging speech on international affairs, President Obama commented on U.S. relations with Cuba. He said, “I also believe that to move forward in this new era, we have to be strong enough to acknowledge when what you’re doing is not working. For 50 years, the United States pursued a Cuba policy that failed to improve the lives of the Cuban people. We changed that. We continue to have differences with the Cuban government. We will continue to stand up for human rights. But we address these issues through diplomatic relations, and increased commerce, and people-to-people ties. As these contacts yield progress, I’m confident that our Congress will inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore. Change won’t come overnight to Cuba, but I’m confident that openness, not coercion, will support the reforms and better the life the Cuban people deserve, just as I believe that Cuba will find its success if it pursues cooperation with other nations.”

Later in the speech, Obama added these words: “Think of the Americans who lowered the flag over our embassy in Havana in 1961 — the year I was born — and returned this summer to raise that flag back up. (Applause.) One of these men said of the Cuban people, “We could do things for them, and they could do things for us. We loved them.” For 50 years, we ignored that fact.

These comments were in the context of the following more general discussion of international affairs by President Obama: “We, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion. We cannot look backwards. We live in an integrated world — one in which we all have a stake in each other’s success. We cannot turn those forces of integration. No nation in this Assembly can insulate itself from the threat of terrorism, or the risk of financial contagion; the flow of migrants, or the danger of a warming planet. The disorder we see is not driven solely by competition between nations or any single ideology. And if we cannot work together more effectively, we will all suffer the consequences.”

“No matter how powerful our military, how strong our economy, we understand the United States cannot solve the world’s problems alone.” So too, in words that could be aimed at Cuba and others, “repression cannot forge the social cohesion for nations to succeed. The history of the last two decades proves that in today’s world, dictatorships are unstable. The strongmen of today become the spark of revolution tomorrow. You can jail your opponents, but you can’t imprison ideas. You can try to control access to information, but you cannot turn a lie into truth. It is not a conspiracy of U.S.-backed NGOs that expose corruption and raise the expectations of people around the globe; it’s technology, social media, and the irreducible desire of people everywhere to make their own choices about how they are governed.”

In a similar vein, Obama said, “The strength of nations depends on the success of their people — their knowledge, their innovation, their imagination, their creativity, their drive, their opportunity — and that, in turn, depends upon individual rights and good governance and personal security.”

Finally, according to Obama, we must “defend the democratic principles that allow societies to succeed” with a recognition that “democracy is going to take different forms in different parts of the world. The very idea of a people governing themselves depends upon government giving expression to their unique culture, their unique history, their unique experiences. But some universal truths are self-evident. No person wants to be imprisoned for peaceful worship. No woman should ever be abused with impunity, or a girl barred from going to school. The freedom to peacefully petition those in power without fear of arbitrary laws — these are not ideas of one country or one culture. They are fundamental to human progress.”

“A government that suppresses peaceful dissent is not showing strength; it is showing weakness and it is showing fear. History shows that regimes who fear their own people will eventually crumble, but strong institutions built on the consent of the governed endure long after any one individual is gone.”

“That’s why our strongest leaders — from George Washington to Nelson Mandela — have elevated the importance of building strong, democratic institutions over a thirst for perpetual power. Leaders who amend constitutions to stay in office only acknowledge that they failed to build a successful country for their people — because none of us last forever. It tells us that power is something they cling to for its own sake, rather than for the betterment of those they purport to serve.”

“Democracy — inclusive democracy — makes countries stronger. When opposition parties can seek power peacefully through the ballot, a country draws upon new ideas. When a free media can inform the public, corruption and abuse are exposed and can be rooted out. When civil society thrives, communities can solve problems that governments cannot necessarily solve alone. When immigrants are welcomed, countries are more productive and more vibrant. When girls can go to school, and get a job, and pursue unlimited opportunity, that’s when a country realizes its full potential.”

President Castro’s September 28th Speech[4]

On September 28, Cuban President Raúl Castro in his address to the U.N. General Assembly essentially reiterated his comments of two days earlier about U.S.-Cuba relations with these words: ‘After 56 years, during which the Cuban people put up a heroic and selfless resistance, diplomatic relations have been reestablished between Cuba and the United States of America.”

“Now, a long and complex process begins toward normalization that will only be achieved with the end of the economic, commercial and financial blockade; the return to our country of the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base; the suspension of radio and TV broadcasts, and subversion and destabilization attempts against the Island; and, when our people are compensated for the human and economic damages they continue to endure.”

“As long as the blockade remains in force, we will continue to introduce the Draft Resolution entitled ‘Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial and Financial Embargo imposed by the United States of America on Cuba.’ To the 188 governments and peoples who have backed our just demand, here, and in other international and regional forums, I reaffirm the eternal gratitude of the Cuban people and government for your continued support.” [5]

The rest of this Castro speech argued that the U.N. has failed in its 70 years of existence to fulfill the lofty purposes of its Charter. The speech also noted Cuba’s solidarity with its Caribbean brothers, African countries, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the Republic of Ecuador, the people of Puerto Rico, the Republic of Argentina, the Brazilian people and President Dilma Rouseff, the Syrian people and the Palestinian people. Castro also supported the nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

On the other hand, Castro reaffirmed Cuba’s “rejection of the intention to expand the presence of NATO up to the Russian borders, as well as of the unilateral and unfair sanctions imposed on that nation” and Cuba’s condemnation of NATO and European countries’ efforts to destabilize countries of the Middle East and Africa that have led to the recent migrant crisis in Europe.

In conclusion, Castro said, “the international community can always count on Cuba to lift its sincere voice against injustice, inequality, underdevelopment, discrimination and manipulation; and for the establishment of a more equitable and fair international order, truly focused on human beings, their dignity and well-being.”

The Presidents’ Meeting[6]

Obama &Castro

The two presidents with their advisors held a 30-minute private meeting at the U.N. on Tuesday, September 29. The photograph at the left shows them shaking hands.

The U.S. delegation consisted of Secretary of State, John Kerry; National Security Adviser, Susan Rice; National Security Council Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Mark Feierstein; and the U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N., Samantha Power.

Cuba’s delegation was composed of the Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez; Consultant, Alejandro Castro Espin (the son of President Raúl Castro); Vice President of Cuba’s Defense and Security Committee, Juan Francisco Arias Fernández; Cuba’s Director General of U.S. Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Josefina Vidal; and Cuba’s Ambassador to the U.S., José Ramón Cabañas.

White House’s Comments on the Meeting[7]

On a September 29 flight from New York City to Washington, D.C., White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, in response to a journalist’s question, said, “I know that the two leaders had an opportunity to discuss some of the regulatory changes that have been announced in the last couple of weeks on the part of the [U.S.]. The State Department is leading civil aviation coordination talks in Cuba right now.  And these are all additional steps that are moving toward more normal relations between our two countries.”

“The President, as he always does, . . . reaffirmed our commitment to seeing the Cuban government do a better job of not just respecting, but actually proactively protecting, the basic human rights of the Cuban people.”

We “continue to believe that deeper engagement and deeper people-to-people ties, deeper economic engagement between the [U.S.] and Cuba will have the effect of moving the government and the nation in a positive direction.”

Thereafter the White House released the following written statement about the meeting: “President Obama met today with President Raul Castro of Cuba to discuss recent advances in relations between the United States and Cuba, as well as additional steps each government can take to deepen bilateral cooperation. The two Presidents discussed the recent successful visit of Pope Francis to both countries.  President Obama highlighted U.S. regulatory changes that will allow more Americans to travel to and do business with Cuba, while helping to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  The President welcomed the progress made in establishing diplomatic relations, and underscored that continued reforms in Cuba would increase the impact of U.S. regulatory changes.  The President also highlighted steps the United States intends to take to improve ties between the American and Cuban peoples, and reiterated our support for human rights in Cuba.”

Cuban Foreign Minister’s Press Conference[8]

Soon after the presidential meeting, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez held a press conference at the U.N. In his opening statement, he said that in a “respectful and constructive” atmosphere, the two presidents exchanged their views on the recent visit of Pope Francisco to Cuba and the United States, as well as issues on the bilateral agenda established between the two countries.

“The presidents agreed on the need to continue working on the set bilateral agenda, which includes areas of mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation and in third countries such as Haiti, the development of dialogue on issues of bilateral and multilateral interest and resolving outstanding issues between two states.”

President Castro affirmed Cuba’s desire to build a new relationship with the U.S. based on respect and sovereign equality, but reiterated that to have normal relations the U.S. had to lift the blockade, which is causing damage and hardship to the Cuban people and affects the interests of American citizens.

Castro also confirmed that Cuba on October 27 would introduce in the General Assembly a resolution condemning the embargo (blockade). Said the foreign Minister, the blockade is “a massive, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights of all Cubans and harms all Cuban families, even Cubans living outside Cuba.” Cuba fully expects this year’s resolution to once again have overwhelming support.

The Foreign Minister said the return of the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba is a high priority element in the process of normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, as a vindication of Cuban people.

At another point he added that “we are very proud of the accomplishments of Cuba on human rights and that human rights are universal, not subject to political selectivity or manipulation of any kind. ” Cuba guarantees the full exercise of political rights and civil liberties, and economic, social and cultural rights. We have many concerns with the situation on human rights in the world, particularly in the U.S. and Western Europe, as illustrated by the current immigration refugee crisis. The pattern of racial discrimination and police brutality against African Americans in the [U.S.] is really serious.

Conclusion

Cuba reiterated its insistence on ending the U.S. embargo as an essential condition for normalization of relations, an objective shared by President Obama and this blog. [9] We now await the U.N. General Assembly’s debate and anticipated approval on October 27 of another resolution condemning the embargo and whether the U.S. will, for the first time, abstain on the vote.

Cuba continues to assert that the U.S. lease of Guantanamo Bay is illegal, but its saying so does not make it so. Previous blog posts have discussed this contention and do not find it persuasive and, therefore, suggested the two countries submit the dispute for resolution to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in the Netherlands.[10]

The same means has been suggested in this blog for resolving the disputes about whether or not Cuba has been damaged by the embargo (blockade) and the amount of such alleged damages as well as the amount of damages to U.S. interests by Cuba’s expropriation of property in the early years of the Cuban Revolution.

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[1] Cuba Ministry Foreign Affairs, Raul Castro: Unacceptable levels of poverty and social inequality persist and even aggravate across the world (Sept. 26, 2015); Reuters, Cuba’s Castro Slams U.S. Trade Embargo at United Nations, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2015); Reuters, U.S. Embargo ‘Main Obstacle’ to Cuba’s Development: Castro, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2015) (video)

[2] White House, Remarks by President on Sustainable Development Goals (Sept. 27, 2015).

[3] Reuters, Quotes from President Obama’s U.N. Speech, N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2015); President Obama’s Speech to the United Nations General Assembly 2015, N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2015); White House, Remarks by President Obama to the United Nations General Assembly (Sept. 28, 2015).

[4] Raúl at the United Nations: The International community can always count on Cuba’s voice in the face of injustice, Granma (Sept. 28, 2015); Full text [of Castro’s speech], Granma (Sept. 28, 2015); Reuters, At U.N., Castro Says U.S. Must End Embargo to Have Normal Cuba Ties, N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2015); Assoc. Press, Raúl Castro Addresses General Assembly, N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2015) (video); Goldman, At the U.N., Raúl Castro of Cuba Calls for End to U.S. Embargo, N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2015).

[5] A prior post reviewed last year’s General Assembly’s condemnation of the embargo.

[6] Assoc. Press, U.S., Cuba Leaders Meet for 2nd Time in This Year, N.Y. Times (Sept. 29, 2015); Reuters, Obama, Castro Meet as They Work on Thawing U.S.-Cuba Ties, N.Y. Times (Sept. 29, 2015); Cuba and U.S. Presidents meet, Granma (Sept. 30, 2015)

[7] White House, Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Josh Earnest en route Washington, D.C., 9/29/15; White House, Readout of the President’s Meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro (Sept. 29, 2015).

[8] Reuters, Cuban Minister on Obama-Castro Meeting, N.Y. Times (Sept. 29, 2015) (video); Bruno Rodriguez: The blockade is a massive, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights, Granma (Sept. 30, 2015).

[9] This blog has discussed the initial bills to end the embargo in the House and Senate as well as later bills to do the same in the Senate and House.

[10] Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (April 4, 2015); Resolution of Issues Regarding U.S.-Lease of Guantanamo Bay (April 6, 2015); Does Cuba Have a Right to Terminate the U.S. Lease of Guantanamo Bay? (April 26, 2015).