Pope Francis declared that there is a “right of the environment” and that mankind has no authority to abuse it, telling more than 100 world leaders and diplomats at the United Nations that urgent action is needed to halt the destruction of God’s creation.
Hoping to spur concrete commitments at upcoming climate change negotiations in Paris, Francis accused the world’s powerful countries of indulging a “selfish and boundless thirst” for money by ravaging the planet’s natural resources and impoverishing the weak and disadvantaged in the process.
He asserted that the poor have inherent rights to education and what he has termed the “three L’s” — lodging, labour, and land.
Francis’ speech, the fifth by a pope to the UN, was a distillation of his recent teaching document on the environment, ‘Praise Be’, which has delighted liberals and environmentalists and drawn scorn from big business interests.
By bringing the document to life before the UN, Francis made clear his priorities.
“Any harm done to the environment is harm done to humanity,” he said.
Francis’ speech kicked off what was a whirlwind day in New York that blended the powerful and the poor, from the solemnity of ground zero to the struggles of Harlem.
His visit included events as large as a processional drive through Central Park, as personal as meetings with schoolchildren and immigrants, and as inspiring for the faithful as Mass for thousands at Madison Square Garden.
Francis was greeted on his arrival at the UN by secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, a key supporter of his eco-friendly agenda. Ban praised Francis for his moral leadership.
“You are at home not in palaces, but among the poor; not with the famous, but with the forgotten; not in official portraits, but in ‘selfies’ with young people,” he said.
Among those in the audience for Francis’ speech was Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousefzai, the young Pakistani education campaigner who was shot and gravely wounded by the Taliban. Also on hand were German chancellor Angela Merkel and philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates.
While his visit marked the fifth time a pope has addressed the UN, the Vatican flag was raised for the first time just before Francis’ arrival. The General Assembly recently agreed to allow the UN’s two observer states, the Holy See and Palestine, to fly their flags alongside those of the 193 member states.
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