Holy See at UN Address to World Interfaith Harmony: Multi-religious Partnership for Sustainable Development

Archbishop Bernardito Auza Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations
Every individual and group must be free from coercion and no one should be forced to act in a manner contrary to his or her beliefs, whether in private or public, whether alone or in association with others. Religious intolerance and violence, which continue in some regions and nations even as we speak, at times affecting even majority religious groups, must be condemned. A religion that espouses violence cannot be an agent for development.


Mr. President,

At the outset, I wish to congratulate you for convening today’s special event of the General Assembly entitled “World Interfaith Harmony Week: Multi-religious Partnership for Sustainable Development.” Thanking you for your kind invitation to be part of this Panel, I assure you that it is my pleasure to participate in today’s event.

Mr. President,

I believe that this event is a recognition of the contributions of religions and religious organizations in the life of communities and of the society as a whole. The world of faith-based organizations appreciates this gesture.

Moreover, this act is a reminder that in many regions of the world, there are cases of marginalization or restrictions if not open persecution of religions and religious organizations, which constitute not only violations of basic human rights, but also a failure to acknowledge the positive role that religions and faith-based organizations played and continue to play in society.

The unique contribution of religions and the cooperation among them lies in their raison d’ĂȘtre, which is to serve the human person in its entirety. Religions and its institutions care about the whole of the human person:

Striving for authentic human development, they do not compartmentalize development, but work for a well-rounded flourishing of each human person and of the whole human person. Because human progress is an integral part of their vision and mission, besides erecting places of worship they also construct community-building centers, hospitals, schools and universities.

They work to protect life and to empower the weak and the oppressed. They help populations develop their natural resources responsibly and protect them from the exploitation of powerful economic and political interests.

They are creative in lifting the poor out of poverty in all its forms, in particular in helping those who are trying to escape the ravages of hunger, poverty, endemic disease and ignorance.

They are not afraid, even to the point of great sacrifices, to fight for justice and raise awareness among the powerful and the rich on the social ends of power and wealth and the universal destination of the goods of this world.

Without pretentions of economic and political domination, they are generally seen as impartial negotiators in conflict resolutions and peace processes.

Locally rooted, they have first-hand knowledge of the many forms of poverty and inequalities. Universally networked, they are effective advocates of causes dear to the United Nations and to the human family as a whole, like the eradication of extreme poverty and the promotion of sustainable development respectful of the environment.

Religions and faith-based organizations would be the first ones to admit that their work was and is sometimes far from perfect, since it was and is the work of imperfect men and women. Notwithstanding, religions and faith-based organizations are partners for sustainable development, and will be potent agents of the achievement of the post-2015 sustainable development goals, as they have been for the MDGs and, indeed, in the history of humanity.

Mr. President,

We are aware and convinced more than ever that development and peace are inseparable and, indeed, interchangeable. As Pope Paul VI affirmed in 1967, development is the new name for peace (Populorum Progressio). Building peace means pursuing development. Extreme disparity between nations provokes discord and puts peace in jeopardy. When we fight poverty and oppose unfair conditions, we are not only furthering the spiritual good of the human person; we are promoting the well-being of the whole human person and the just ordering of societies. For peace is not simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by our daily efforts spent for an ever greater harmony among individuals and nations. In these areas of human progress, religions and faith-based organizations are more than willing to work and to collaborate with individuals and institutions.

Mr. President,

The Holy See and the Catholic Church are aware that because of their work, faith-based organizations can “disturb” certain interests and groups. This is especially true in the fight for justice and the protection of natural resources, like forests and heritage lands of indigenous populations. As Pope Francis affirmed with sadness, today we have more martyrs than in the first centuries! (Angelus, 23 June 2013). He was not only referring to those who were killed for their faith, but also to those who die for justice and the truth. We have thousands of examples of individuals and communities, whose fight for justice and dignity was deeply motivated by their religious faith and their belief in the inherent dignity of each and every the human person. We owe them profound respect and gratitude. We must carry on their fight.

Mr. President,

For its part, the Catholic Church and its vast network of organizations have been and continue to be active in every corner of the globe:

They work to promote universal access to education at its over 200,000 schools throughout the world, and to provide healthcare through almost 40,000 hospitals and care institutions, especially in remote areas otherwise deprived of healthcare.

They have helped and continue to help resolve conflicts through interreligious initiatives and direct mediation in various parts of the world, in Chile and Argentina, in Ecuador and Peru, in Mozambique and in Angola, in Southern Philippines and in Cuba.

The vast network of Catholic humanitarian and development agencies, locally rooted yet universally interconnected, respond to disasters and promote sustainable development, providing services regardless of race, religion and national or ethnic origin.

While these statistics represent only a portion of the selfless efforts and great sacrifice being done by religious organizations and their personnel, they serve as a reminder that no serious efforts to achieve the sustainable development goals will be successful and lasting if religions and faith-based organizations are not actively engaged in policy discussion and implementation.

In this regard, the Holy See continues to be concerned by situations where enacted or proposed legislative and administrative measures place undue limits on the practice of religion and their legitimate activities. Likewise, the Holy See condemns those who use religion as a pretext or justification for violating human rights or committing violence.

National and global decision makers, legal and political systems and all people of goodwill are called to cooperate to ensure that diverse religious expressions are not restricted or silenced.

Every individual and group must be free from coercion and no one should be forced to act in a manner contrary to his or her beliefs, whether in private or public, whether alone or in association with others. Religious intolerance and violence, which continue in some regions and nations even as we speak, at times affecting even majority religious groups, must be condemned. A religion that espouses violence cannot be an agent for development.

The Catholic Church declares its deep and abiding respect for other religions, and it rejects nothing of what is true, noble and holy in these religions. It expects the same from other religions, so that together we can continue to build strong relationships, for the greater good of all humanity.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) meets with Archishop Bernardito Cleopas Auza, new Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas