21 September 2017

I remember the event. I had just arrived in Belgium to begin my studies at the Catholic University of Louvain. Pope Paul VI had arrived in New York, to address the United Nations. It was Monday, October 4, 1965. Gathered with my US classmates at The American College of Louvain, we watched the pope, speaking in French, on a small black and white TV with an occasionally flickering screen, because the rabbit ears were not working that well. Here, in English translation, are some excerpts from that historic address, because I believe they truly have contemporary significance:

Pope Paul VI at the United Nations

As I begin to speak to this audience that is unique in the whole world, I must first of all express my profound thanks to Mr. Thant, your Secretary General, who was kind enough to invite me to pay a visit to the United Nations on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of this world institution for peace and collaboration between the nations of the whole world…. This gathering, as you are all aware, has a twofold nature: it is marked at one and the same time by simplicity and by greatness. By simplicity because the one who is speaking to you is a man like yourselves. He is your brother, and even one of the least among you who represent sovereign States, since he possesses – if you choose to consider it from this point of view – only a tiny and practically symbolic temporal sovereignty: the minimum needed in order to be free to exercise his spiritual mission and to assure those who deal with him that he is independent of any sovereignty of this world….   

Permit me to say that I have a message, and a happy one, to hand over to each one of you My message is meant to be first of all a solemn moral ratification of this lofty institution, and it comes from my experience of history. It is as an “expert on humanity” that I bring this organization the support and approval of my recent predecessors, that of the Catholic hierarchy, and my own, convinced as I am that this organization represents the obligatory path of modern civilization and world peace. 

In saying this, I am aware that I am speaking for the dead as well as for the living: for the dead who have fallen in the terrible wars of the past, dreaming of world peace and harmony; for the living who have survived the wars and who in their hearts condemn in advance those who would try to have them repeated; for other living people, as well: today’s younger generation who are moving ahead trustfully with every right to expect a better humankind.  

I also want to speak for the poor, the disinherited, the unfortunate, those who long for justice, a dignified life, liberty, prosperity and progress. People turn to the United Nations as if it were their last hope for peace and harmony.  

I presume to bring here their tribute of honor and of hope along with my own. That is why this moment is a great one for you too. I know that you are fully aware of this. So, listen now to the rest of my message, which is directed completely towards the future.  

This edifice that you have built must never again fall into ruins: it must be improved upon and adapted to the demands which the history of the world will make upon it. You mark a stage in the development of humankind. Henceforth, it is impossible to go back; you must go forward. 

You offer the many states  which can no longer ignore each other a form of coexistence that is extremely simple and fruitful. First of all, you recognize them and distinguish them from each other. Now you certainly do not confer existence on states, but you do qualify each nation as worthy of being seated in the orderly assembly of peoples. You confer recognition of lofty moral and juridical value upon each sovereign national community and you guarantee it an honorable international citizenship. It is in itself a great service to the cause of humanity to define clearly and honor the nations that are the subjects of the world community and to set them up in a juridical position which wins them the recognition and respect of all, and which can serve as the basis for an orderly and stable system of international life.  

You sanction the great principle that relationships between nations must be regulated by reason, justice, law and negotiation, and not by force, violence, war, nor indeed by fear and deceit…. 

Here my message reaches its culmination…. These are the words you are looking for me to say and the words I cannot utter without feeling aware of their seriousness and solemnity: never again one against the other, never, never again! Was not this the very end for which the United Nations came into existence: to be against war and for peace? Listen to the clear words of a great man who is no longer with us, John Kennedy, who proclaimed four years ago: Humans must put an end to war, or war will put an end to humanity. There is no need for a long talk to proclaim the main purpose of your institution. It is enough to recall that the blood of millions, countless unheard-of sufferings, useless massacres and frightening ruins have sanctioned the agreement that unites you with an oath that ought to change the future history of the world: never again war, never again war! It is peace, peace, that must guide the destiny of the nations of all humankind! 

2 thoughts on “At the United Nations: A Bit of History 

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