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Pope Francis urges use of Declaration of Human Rights, now in its 70th year

12 January 2018


Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See with the Pope for new-year greetings, on Monday

Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See with the Pope for new-year greetings, on Monday

THE world must return to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to overcome conflict, Pope Francis has said at his annual address to Vatican diplomats.

Speaking on Monday, the Pope hailed the declaration — 70 years old this year — for recognising that the “inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world”. Yet seven decades after its adoption, the fundamental rights laid out in the declaration continued to be violated, he said.

In a wide-ranging address, the Pope called for nuclear disarmament, dialogue on the Korean peninsula, peace in Syria and Iraq, and a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

But it was not just war and violence that infringed on humanity’s rights: abortion, euthanasia, human trafficking, and modern slavery were also ongoing scourges, he told his audience of diplomats from around the world stationed in the Vatican.

The modern understanding of human rights cohered perfectly with the Christian view, he went on. “For the Holy See, to speak of human rights means, above all, to restate the centrality of the human person, willed and created by God in his image and likeness.

“The Lord Jesus himself, by healing the leper, restoring sight to the blind man, speaking with the publican, saving the life of the woman caught in adultery, and demanding that the injured wayfarer be cared for, makes us understand that every human being, independent of his or her physical, spiritual, or social condition, is worthy of respect and consideration.”

Pope Francis restated the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to nuclear force, and praised last year’s UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (News, 14 July). He also called for dialogue between North and South Korea, after 12 months of international tensions and repeated nuclear tests by Kim Jong-Un’s regime.

In Syria, the Pope hoped that, “after so much destruction, the time for rebuilding has now come”, and expressed a desire that refugees from the now six-year civil war in neighbouring countries would be able to return home.

Elsewhere, the Pope said that he was thinking of the Israelis and Palestinians, and expressed sorrow for lives lost in recent clashes. Referring to President Trump’s recent and widely criticised decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (News, 15 December), he said that the status quo must prevail.

“The Holy See renews its pressing appeal that every initiative be carefully weighed so as to avoid exacerbating hostilities, and calls for a common commitment to respect the status quo of Jerusalem, a city sacred to Christians, Jews, and Muslims.”

The conflict in the Holy Land, which, like the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, is now 70 years old, must be ended with a two-state solution, the Pope said.

The rights of migrants and refugees, too, were being violated. The freedom to leave and then return to one’s home country was a fundamental liberty that all people possess, he said. “Today, there is much talk about migrants and migration, at times only for the sake of stirring up primal fears. It must not be forgotten that migration has always existed: in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the history of salvation is essentially a history of migration.”

In a coded attack on populist politicians who campaign on fears about migration, he said that the arrival of millions of migrants in Europe should spur the continent to recover its “cultural and religious heritage” as a place of welcome and peace.

The Pope said that he had cherished his meeting with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, who were fleeing state-sponsored persecution in Myanmar (News, 28 November 2017).

Finally, he warned that, while the Church was of one mind with the original 1948 Declaration, modern developments since the 1960s were leading to clashes with social and culture traditions. The stability of the family, built on marriage between a man and a woman, had fallen out of vogue, Pope Francis said, and had been replaced by “fleeting” and “fickle” relationships.

“There is a risk that, in the very name of human rights, we will see the rise of modern forms of ideological colonisation by the stronger and the wealthier, to the detriment of the poorer and the most vulnerable.”

Nudging the global community back to the foundation of universal human rights was a project that would take many generations, Pope Francis conceded. But he urged his audience to adopt the same attitude as those who built Europe’s many cathedrals.

“The builders of the cathedrals knew that they would not see the completion of their work. Yet they worked diligently, in the knowledge that they were part of a project that would be left to their children to enjoy.

“Each man and woman in this world — particularly those with governmental responsibilities — is called to cultivate the same spirit of service and intergenerational solidarity, and in this way to be a sign of hope for our troubled world.”

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