March 12, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI To Address The U.N.


by Rohan Parker

During his visit to the U.S. next month, Pope Benedict XVI is to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He will be the third pontiff to do so, after Pope Paul VI who spoke in 1965, and Pope John Paul II addressed the U.N. in both 1979 and 1995.

It is unknown what the April 18 address will contain at this stage, however speculations are that the Pope will speak on issues close to both the church and to the U.N. such as arms control, battling global poverty and disease, and particularly issues which hold significance to Catholics such as religious freedom and abortion.

As with those before him, Benedict is an avid supporter of the U.N. and its founding mission, which is described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and its continued principle of operation, multilateral diplomacy.

In a statment directed towards the U.S. ambassador to the Pontiff, Mary Ann Glendon, last month, the Pope said that to resolve the current global conflicts, there needs to be trust in, and the commitment to, international bodies such as the U.N. and the work that they do.

This was a rather pointed comment as the Vatican has always opposed the U.S invasion of Iraq, started in 2003 and still going, mainly because the U.S. failed to abide by decisions of the U.N., and failed in obtaining a mandate from the international peace body.

There is much speculation that the Pontiff’s speach is likely to not coincide with many policies of the Bush administration.

Thomas J. Reese, a senior staff member of the Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center stated that the pope is often left of Democrats on the issues of Iraq, terrorism, poverty, Third World debt, refugees, environmental issues, trade, and international disarmament.

To Benedict, peace cannot be achieved where extreme povety is, because if people are lacking in even the basic necessities of life, they are not knowing peace. The pontiff has called for new legal imperatives to help alleviate the inequality of the First and the Third Worlds.

Another of the issues close to the heart of the Pope is the environment. He has stated that it isn’t our right to treat the earth any way we want to, he said that to survive we have to acknowledge and abide by the inner laws of creation.

The Pope’s speach is set to not focus too strongly on Catholic beliefs, but rather to the common ethical principles shared between the church and the U.N. However Benedict’s peculiar job of being both head of state and head of one of the largest churches in the world will no doubt cause some focus on his religious affiliations.

There has been continued calls from Benedict to abolish religious persecution and discrimination, especially against Christians and Islamics.

According to Rev. Robert A. Gahl Jr., who moved from the U.S. to teach at Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Benedict is an advocate of not only religious freedom, but the right to convert and promote conversion.

The Pope is known for his extremely oppositional stance regarding religious justified terrorism, a position which will be especially poignant in the context of the U.N.

The pontiffs address to the U.N. will take place very close to Ground Zero, which the Pope will visit just two days after the address, and is expected to relate to terrorism acutely. In 2006, Benedict gave a lecture in which he quoted a description of the Prophet Muhammad’s legacy from the 14th Century which denounced it as evil and inhuman; this drew much criticism from Muslim leaders around the world and violent protests ensued.

However Muslim leaders are expected to back the pontiffs stand on medical and sexual ethics. During Benedict’s official message on the World Day of Peace this year, he stated that the use of contraception, birth control, abortion, and same-sex marriage were threats to peace because they corroded traditional family values.

These values have put the Vatican at odds more and more with citizens and leaders of Western nations, though the Bush administration is more or less in agreement with these somewhat archaic notions, as well as those less so, such as the use of contraception in the effort to stop the spread of AIDS.

At this stage it looks like the Pope’s address to the U.N. will offer food for thought to all listeners, even if they are all disquieted by some of his messages.

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