Getting into the General Assembly Hall, last Friday 25 September 2015, to listen to Pope Francis was a herculean task for civil society members. A lottery was held for the only 35 available spaces. All my life I have never won a bet so I didn't even try.
My colleague, Dadirai Chikwengo from Cafod in London and I showed-up with our Caritas passes at the UN Church centre which hosts Caritas offices at the UN. The centre had arranged to host accredited visitors at the chapel to listen to the Pope. For a moment Dadirai and I argued about which language the Pope would use in his address to the UN. Dadirai was sure it would be English since he spoke it at Capitol Hill. I said he would be more comfortable with Spanish. I won, without a prize though.
Sometimes it is not what Pope Francis says as what he is that touches you. You just know this is a man of God, the Vicar of Christ, the chief shepherd of the world faithful, and his sense and gift of presence is enough. He doesn’t say things, he shares his heart; he doesn’t speak, you become one with his thoughts, and for a moment every other thought of yours becomes subsumed in his and you touch his empathy.
I would say Pope Francis is God’s gift to the Church and especially to the world at this time. He is fearless as he defends the rights of his special constituency, the ‘discarded’, the ‘dregs’ of society, those remnants of a ‘culture of waste’. He believes in the UN. But he wants it to live-up genuinely to its expectation as a darkness dispeller, because it has the potential of preventing the consequences of unbridled ambition which always leave the poor as collateral damage. He wants the UN to be more inclusive of poorer and weaker nations especially in its institutions with own executive powers, such as in the Security Council or the International Financial Institutions, with their ‘oppressive lending systems’ which have impoverished nations and peoples. Pope Francis always wants everyone, even weak nations, to have a voice.
Francis sees the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a sign of hope and he prays also for the Paris Climate Change Conference of November 2015. He throws in a challenge to leaders of state and government to go beyond making ‘a declarational nominalism’ at the UN, where the fashion is to always make declarations that cannot be translated into action. The Holy Father wants these men and women of power and influence to overcome partisanship and manipulation and make the international system work for everyone. He wants the UN to bark and bite, by adopting an abiding sense of justice, which comes with a perpetual will to do good. If only world leaders always remembered that those who bear the consequences of their inaction or half-heartedness are real men and women who “live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty ,deprived of all rights…’ maybe it would draw them to more commitment. Otherwise the new agenda good as it is will consist of nice declarations.
Pope Francis makes a salient point about war. It could be the single most devastating cause for reversed development; therefore the UN must continue to hone its skills in preventing the occurrence of war.
As the Pope rounded off his speech, we tried a fast one. The back door of the chapel would have opened straight onto the road he would drive past, and his car would be just four meters from us and he could actually look at us and bless us. But a policeman countered his junior colleague and asked us to go back in and lock the door. We never gave up. We all rushed to the 8th floor of the building and had a good view below. Right across from us were snipers on the roof of the GA building using binoculars to watch us. Thank God we carried nothing that looked like suspicious. And there he was! Many feet below, waving in his tiny Fiat as it drove past. I clicked and caught his exposed hand as it leaned on the window sill. And Dadirai said ‘Imagine what would happen if we let go of some our opulence…’
(By Fr. Evaristus Bassey, National Director, Caritas Nigeria)