John Paul II - a Man of God and a Servant of Man: The Pope at the United Nations

Article excerpt


Pope John Paul II was a giant of his time and he will likely be viewed that way for many years to come. His extraordinary contributions to the Church were matched by his incessant labors for the betterment of all humanity. In the former context, he was a faithful successor of St. Peter and led a church of over one billion souls, sometimes in the throes of controversy. In the latter, he was a persistent and forceful advocate for all--not just some--members of the human family. And it was in this venue that Pope John Paul II took a special interest in the United Nations. In his two addresses before the UN General Assembly, he presented his views on these matters based on a Christian anthropology for all members of the human family.

Moreover, his appearances at UN headquarters directed how the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations would participate in the work of the United Nations to further the Pope's plan for improving the conditions of existence for all. Without his contributions, it is more likely that abortion would have been declared a "human right" or an acceptable method of family planning, the nature of the family would have been radically redefined, the refusal to perform an abortion would constitute a crime against humanity or a war crime, and the natural and fundamental rights of all would have been compromised by the utilitarian calculus of relativism. In short, his influence on the work of the United Nations demonstrated that the decisions made by this international organization were not merely political but also moral.

In many ways, the words and deeds of John Paul II were directed toward the challenges of his time--challenges that affected the welfare of each member of the human family. The temporal context of his papacy began with a world of conflict dominated by the interests of superpowers and the threats of totalitarian regimes. It ended with the disappearance of many of these menaces; however, they were replaced with a world torn between the dictatorships of relativism and terrorism. But John Paul II never relented in seeking to persuade the world community gathered at the United Nations that it had moral obligations to ensure that the peace and security of all nations and the rights of every human being were protected against whatever threats existed.

The core thesis of this article is that the influence of John Paul II at the United Nations was geared toward directing this organization to be authentic to its mission of advancing international peace and security by protecting fundamental rights of individuals and the rights of peoples in their quest for authentic self-determination. He understood well that some advocates for human rights and self-determination did not consider the legitimate interests of others. Therefore, he insisted that the promotion of human rights be directed toward achieving those authentic rights of every member of the human family. In addition, he realized that some expressions of self-determination were, in fact, disguised efforts for certain groups to achieve a hegemony that would lead to the suppression of others' legitimate quests. Consequently, the rights of nations that he advanced were for the authentic expression of the legitimate claims of all peoples of the world.

In developing this thesis, I shall first present a brief synopsis of the work of Pope John Paul II's modern predecessors who took an interest and sought to participate in the work of the world's principal international organizations, the League of Nations and the United Nations. Although John Paul II stood on the foundation they had established, he dramatically furthered and focused their work through an ongoing presence at the United Nations by the participation of the Holy See's delegation accredited to the United Nations. While the Holy See was not interested in the United Nation's activities from the perspective of a temporal sovereign, it was eager to offer its voice to the organization's deliberations and other activities as an "expert in humanity" seeking to bring the good news to all peoples. …