By Alessandro Gisotti
“In the current war in Ukraine, we are witnessing the impotence of the Organizations of the United Nations.” Pope Francis’ words yesterday at the General Audience have echoed widely. No less relevant, however, are the words that immediately preceded this statement. Indeed, they are the premise of the bitter observation: “After World War II, the attempt was made to lay the foundations of a new era of peace. But, unfortunately – we never learn, right? – the old story of competition between the greater powers went on.”
Pope Francis strongly believes in the role of the United Nations and the value of multilateralism. A conviction that today is even stronger in the “change of epoch” that we are living amid our arduous search for a new horizon of coexistence for humanity. In the footsteps of his predecessors – and in particular, St Paul VI, St John Paul II, and Benedict XVI – Pope Francis has repeatedly made gestures and words in support of the United Nations, encouraging a process of reform that is requested in particular by those countries, by those peoples, who suffer most from the consequences of that powerlessness to which the Pope referred.
Speaking on September 25, 2015, at the UN General Assembly, the Pope affirmed that “reform and adaptation to the times is always necessary in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of granting all countries, without exception, a share in, and a genuine and equitable influence on, decision-making processes.” Thus, from the very first years of his pontificate, he stressed the theme of “the need for greater equity,” especially in the case of those bodies with “effective executive capability, such as the Security Council, the Financial Agencies, and the groups or mechanisms specifically created to deal with economic crises.” And he concluded his speech at the UN Headquarters in New York by reiterating the need for a strengthened UN. “The praiseworthy international juridical framework of the United Nations Organization” he observed, “can be the pledge of a secure and happy future for future generations. And so it will, if the representatives of the States can set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good.” He reiterated these concepts in November of the same year during his visit to the United Nations headquarters in Nairobi.
On the commitment to the care of our common home, the peaceful resolution of international disputes and economic development centered on people and peoples, the Pope and the Holy See consider the United Nations the most suitable international forum to find a point of convergence between different issues and interests.
In December 2019, in a joint video message, the Pope and UN Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated that “trust in dialogue between individuals and between nations, in multilateralism, in the role of the international organizations, and in diplomacy as an instrument for appreciation and understanding, is indispensable for the building of a peaceful world.”
A few months later, the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, making it even more indispensable to invest in multilateralism, in the awareness that all of humanity is in the same boat. “The pandemic,” he observed in a video message on September 25, 2020, to the 75th Meeting of the UN General Assembly, “has shown us that we cannot live without one another, or worse still, pitted against one another. The United Nations was established to bring nations together, to be a bridge between peoples.” And in words that tie in well with what he said yesterday, he added that “our strife-ridden world needs the United Nations to become an ever more effective international workshop for peace. This means that the members of the Security Council, especially the Permanent Members, must act with greater unity and determination.”
More so, the reform of the United Nations also finds a place in the encyclical Fratelli tutti. Pope Francis devotes an entire paragraph, no. 173, to the subject. (Earlier, John XXIII had dedicated paragraph 75 of Pacem in terris to the UN). For the Pope, such a reform is necessary “so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth.” He insists that it is necessary to ensure “the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation, and arbitration.”
With the same sentiment that led him to pronounce yesterday’s words, he also warns that “there is need to prevent this Organization from being delegitimized, since its problems and shortcomings are capable of being jointly addressed and resolved.” Thus, the United Nations does not exist, the Pope seems to suggest, if the nations are not united, united in courageously seeking the path of mutual understanding. Whether it be the end of a war, patents on vaccines, or the fight against global warming, each must be willing to “lose” a little so that all may gain together. The most important challenge is at stake: the future of humanity.