Pope takes ‘save the earth’ appeal to the biggest stage
2015-09-15 16:22:25 -
World News

Michael McGowan


This month Pope Francis will address the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, where global leaders will meet to negotiate new Sustainable Development Goals and targets for the next 15 years. The Pope’s decision to speak at the UN shows his determination to address global inequality on a world stage, and is a testament to how seriously he takes development issues and the future of the planet.


Pope Francis has consistently emphasised that the planet is tearing itself apart through war and poverty, and the timing of his address could not be more pertinent as millions of refugees and displaced persons are on the move in the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War, and populist and extreme nationalist groups gain increasing support across the globe.


His historic visit to the United States this September is based on the hope, and with some expectation that he will be able to persuade the US and the UN to give the highest priority to easing the plight of the world’s poorest and persecuted.


When Pope Francis arrives at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington on 22 September, it will not be his first visit to the United States as pontiff but will in fact be his first ever visit to the country. Born in Buenos Aires in 17 December 1936, he is the first Jesuit leader of the Catholic Church, the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first non-European pope since the Syrian Gregory 111 in 741.



Humility and concern

Throughout his life, Pope Francis has been noted for his humility and his concern for the poor, the battle against global warming, and irresponsible development have always been a focus of his papacy. The Papal encyclical Laudato si’, published in June of this year, is an appeal from Pope Francis to “every person living on the planet” – and although there are many previous statements by popes, this is the first social encyclical in the Catholic Church to highlight directly the threats of climate change, growing global inequality and the destruction of nature.


While in the US, Pope Francis will also address a joint meeting of Congress and will lead an outdoor mass at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. But he will start his journey on more familiar ground from 19 to 22 September in Cuba, when he will mark the country’s new era with the US following his success in helping to restore diplomatic relations. The Pope played a key role in brokering same with his ability to serve as a bridge between two former enemies, gaining the confidence of both sides. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires he authorised a text titled ‘Dialogue between Pope John Paul II and Fidel Castro’ and in fact John Paul was the first pope to visit Cuba.



Pope Francis has an impressive track record as an internationalist and his initiatives include his visit to Israel last December, welcoming the Palestinian president to the Vatican and the signing by the Vatican of a treaty recognising the state of Palestine. And this past June he visited Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Last November he addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg to stress that the earth needs constant attention, that nature is to be enjoyed and used properly, and that we are stewards but not masters of the planet.


The Pope has bluntly spelt out his disappointment about the lack of international leadership given the scale of the challenges we face and says in his encyclical: “lt is remarkable how week international political responses have been.” His visit to the US and the UN this month, and his appeals to help save our planet, deserve global support.



Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament

TAGS : Pope Francis United Nations Refugee Crisis Global Warming United States
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