Pope offers contrasting global vision to Trump in address to diplomats
Pope Francis today issued a blueprint for geopolitical stability, calling for a de-escalation of tensions in Korea, for nuclear disarmament and for world leaders to recognise that migrating to another country is a “fundamental human right”.
He set out his vision this morning during his annual address to diplomats.
His message runs counter to that of US President Donald Trump, underlining the Pope’s role as an upholder of the compassionate, internationally-focussed, post-war consensus.
Speaking to ambassadors from the 183 countries which the Holy See has relations with, the Pope made an indirect criticism of Trump’s policy on Jerusalem which the president recently decided would be recognised as the capital of Israel. This move ran roughshod over United Nations’ resolutions on the matter and Francis – stressing the city is “sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims” – called for those agreements to be a respected through a commitment to keeping the “status quo” of the city.
Francis’s address this morning took place in the Sala Regia, a room full of medieval frescoes in the Vatican’s apostolic palace. The speech is the closest thing the Holy See has to a policy document on world affairs, although as the Pope pointed out in his speech, Vatican diplomacy “seeks only to promote the spiritual and material well-being of the human person and to pursue the common good”.
The audience included Callista Gingrich, the new US Ambassador to the Holy See, and her husband, Newt, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives and an ally of President Trump.
The Holy See’s large diplomatic network has earned it a reputation as a “listening post” where it is possible to pick up valued information about everywhere from Iran to Cuba. There are currently 89 countries who keep embassies in Rome with the rest serving as non-resident envoys, and 25 ambassadors to the Holy See are women.
In an address that criss-crossed various conflict riven parts of the world, the 81-year-old Pope – who wrote a landmark encyclical on protecting the environment – stressed the need for international co-operation on maintaining the 2015 Paris agreement to reduce carbon emissions.
“Climate changes, with the global rise in temperatures and their devastating effects, are also a consequence of human activity,” said Francis, citing recent hurricanes that have effected the United States. “Hence there is a need to take up, in a united effort, the responsibility of leaving to coming generations a more beautiful and liveable world, and to work, in the light of the commitments agreed upon in Paris in 2015.”
Just days after Trump met the Pope in the Vatican last May – where the president promised the Pope he would read the climate change encyclical “Laudato si’ ” – the president announced he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris deal.
When it came to the most worrying threat to global peace, namely the threat of nuclear war between North Korea and the US, Francis called for patient dialogue.
He stressed that dialogue on the Korean peninsula – between South Korea and its dictator-led northern neighbour – was of “paramount importance”. The Vatican has already signalled it would like contact with North Korea in order to ease tensions.
While North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has issued nuclear threats, President Trump tweeted recently that he had control over “much bigger” and “more powerful” nuclear arsenal and that “my [nuclear] button works!”
Today the Pope re-iterated the Vatican’s call for nuclear disarmament stressing that the “proliferation of weapons clearly aggravates situations of conflict and entails enormous human and material costs that undermine development and the search for lasting peace.”
Francis then quoted his predecessor Saint John XXIII, the architect of current papal policy of non-violence, who said: “The stockpiles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced all round and simultaneously by the parties concerned. Nuclear weapons must be banned.”
A key part of the Jesuit Pope’s 5,000-word speech focussed on refugees, a major concern of this papacy, with Francis warning against the stirring up of “primal fears” about the subject.
“It must not be forgotten that migration has always existed,” said the Pope, a son of migrants. “In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the history of salvation is essentially a history of migration. Nor should we forget that freedom of movement, for example, the ability to leave one’s own country and to return there, is a fundamental human right.”
Francis’ concern for migrants and refugees also contrasts with President Trump who has pursued an “America first” policy by bringing in a travel ban and planning to build a wall on the border of Mexico.
While he stressed the Holy See has “no intention of interfering in decisions that fall to states” the Pope pointed out that most new arrivals in Europe are driven by a desire to find peace and security.
He cited Bangladesh as a country welcoming new arrivals, something he saw first hand during his recent South Asia visit where he met with a group of Rohingya Muslims who had been driven out of Myanmar.
“I cherish vivid memories of my meeting in Dhaka with some members of the Rohingya people, and I renew my sentiments of gratitude to the Bangladeshi authorities for the assistance provided to them on their own territory,” the Pope said.
The papal focus on climate change, migrants and disarmament has earned him the moniker “global leader of the left” but today the Pope also mentioned issues which show he doesn’t fit neatly into any political box.
He made a strong call for the protection of the family and warned against forms of “ideological colonisation by the stronger and the wealthier, to the detriment of the poorer and the most vulnerable.”
And while praising the development of human rights, the Pope said these were routinely discarded when it came to abortion.
“Innocent children,” he stressed are “discarded even before they are born, unwanted at times simply because they are ill or malformed, or as a result of the selfishness of adults.”
The Pope called for a broader application of human rights which grants the right to healthcare of every individual along with the “necessary social services.” On this issue he once again showed himself at odds with President Trump who is trying to undo medical coverage legislation brought in by President Barack Obama.
Finally, Francis criticised countries declining birth rates in some parts of the world saying “we are experiencing a true demographic winter”. He didn’t specify who he was referring to, but the implication is that the Pope was referring to western – and traditionally Catholic – European countries.
“This is a sign of societies that struggle to face the challenges of the present, and thus become ever more fearful of the future, with the result that they close in on themselves.”
This article was originally published by The Tablet.