Forum of Catholic-Inspired NGOs

Rome, 11-12 December 2017

“Strengthening the voice of the Church in its service to humanity.”

Discourse of His Excellency, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher

Secretary for Relations with States

Monday, 11 December 2017 at 18.30
(Villa Aurelia – Via Leone XIII, 459)

Dear Excellencies and Monsignors,

Representatives of Catholic-inspired NGOs, and friends.

1. With pleasure I have this occasion to be with you at this 3rd International Forum of Catholic-inspired NGOs, exactly ten years since the first meeting in 2007. I wish to greet and thank the members of the organizing committee for their commitment during these months of preparation for this meeting. As you may know, after having consulted with representatives of a number of Catholic-inspired NGOs, the first Forum was organized largely by the Secretariat of State as a way to respond to the then perceived need to have a more coherent “voice” between the Holy See and Catholic-inspired NGOs present in the international fora, as well as to encourage a better coordination among them. The Forum was thus envisioned as a sort of “facilitator” to assist the efforts of the Catholic-inspired NGOs and the Holy See in multilateral settings and to provide a testimony of fraternal collaboration among the individual NGOs. Since then, the Holy See has followed with interest the activities of the Forum on the local level in several multilateral centres and does so with the intention of helping them to be more effective, while respecting their autonomy.

2. As is well known, the engagement of the Holy See and of civil society on the international scene must not be limited merely to the political sphere. We are involved in the work of multilateral diplomacy in order to pave a “path towards attaining the ideal of human fraternity and a means for its greater realization” (Pope Francis, UN General Assembly, 25 September 2015). With this in mind, the Holy See and Catholic-inspired NGOs can work together to achieve this ideal, united by the same Christian faith and principles. I wish to make clear, however, that this Forum is not intended to be a mechanism controlled by the Holy See. Rather, it is you, the members of the various Catholic-inspired NGOs, who are the protagonists of the Forum, bringing to the table your real-life experiences and expertise. With a collaborative resolve, the Forum may also be able to support those activities that the Holy See carries out, in a spirit of communion, of dialogue and co-responsibility.

3. Dear friends, the world scene that stands before us at this particular moment in history, filled with challenges of wars, conflicts, massive displacements of peoples, and serious threats from climate change, humanitarian and nature disasters, among others, presents a daunting challenge. These situations put the international community to the test, to work together in resolving them through diplomatic and peaceful means. The Holy See, in its unique way, actively engages with the international organizations in its commitment to promoting peace and the common good of humanity based on the truths and principles that make up our faith. From this same perspective, the Holy See is interested in supporting the activity carried out by the Catholic-inspired NGOs involved in the same institutions, with the hope to encourage their worthy initiatives with the principles that emanate from the Gospel and the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching.

4. In addition to the professionalism and competence that they bring to the political sphere, Catholic-inspired NGOs are generally welcoming of the support and encouragement of the Holy See. In this sense, the Forum hopes to be a space for effective collaboration and mutual exchange where the Holy See might offer a wealth of experience and guiding principles that, where freely accepted, may be useful in their work. The right balance between a spirit of collaboration and respect of autonomy of action will favour the development of the Forum’s activities.

5. Among the foundational elements that the diplomacy of the Holy See promotes in the evangelizing task of the Church is the mission of charity. This charity, the love of neighbour, is rooted in the dignity of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God and the inalienable rights that flow from this dignity. Today, more than ever, it is important for us to engage in the task of renewing a truly Christian anthropology, one which respects and promotes the dignity of the human person, rather than considering it a means to an end. From this perspective, our work does not consist only in external activities that might be described as more or less philanthropic, which only look to satisfy material needs. Our work has a further dimension, which is often not sufficiently emphasized by the projects we carry out. What makes the “difference” of a Christian who acts in the “periphery” of international politics, whether working in an NGO or on behalf of the Holy See, is the active presence and living witness to accomplish a mission that is outside of one’s own interests, that seeks the good of the other. Our strength, as well as our effectiveness, is rooted in this reality: “love in the truth.” At this point, I wish to speak, although not comprehensively, about some of the areas, initiatives and priorities, wherein our combined efforts can prove to be beneficial.

6. In embracing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the international community committed itself to achieving praiseworthy goals in order to eradicate the root causes that hinder true integral human development. At the time of its adoption at the UN General Assembly in New York in 2015, the Holy Father described the Agenda as “an important sign of hope”. One of the main reasons for this hope is that world leaders had mutually agreed upon “an action plan for people, the planet and prosperity”, “determined to end poverty and hunger, in all its forms and dimensions”, and to ensure “that all human beings can realize their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment”. The common desire to “leave no one behind” demonstrates the core of this attention to people.

Despite the positive progress made in recent years, the Holy See has reminded the world community of the need to avoid falling into the trap that the Holy Father labelled as a “declamatory nominalism” where the proliferation of words, meetings, conferences, resolutions, etc., give the impression of a real and effective progress, when, in reality, these can be exploited for the diffusion of concepts that are more ideologically-driven or focused on particular interests. Another risk is to have an excessively bureaucratic orientation that can be an obstacle to our work. To avoid these and other obstacles, we need a careful, clear and honest assessment of how our organizations are working to achieve concrete and practical results that actually help real people and not just offer ideas on paper.

7. Another major challenge listed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is that of education. The hope is that all people, regardless of age, gender, race or ethnicity, but especially those in vulnerable situations, may have access to lifelong learning opportunities, enabling them to acquire the tools and knowledge necessary to participate fully in society. Similar objectives include the need to overcome the rate of student dropout, to promote professional teacher training, to enhance the use of information technology, to convey social justice values, to respect fundamental human rights and to instil habits that lead to a healthy life.

I would like to recall that the Catholic Church – being “expert in humanity” and “expert in education”, due to its long history – unceasingly supports the need to realize a process of integral education of the human person, recognizing the fundamental role of parents as the primary educators of their children. As noted by Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, in a 2010 inaugural address at the UNESCO, the Church considers education a priority, supporting efforts to overcome illiteracy and access to education for all, which is so important for the harmonious growth of society. In this sense too, your NGOs can make a valuable contribution so that educational institutions become “laboratories of humanity”, in the mission of the Church to educate all in truth and beauty.

8. Another priority, in which many of you are actively engaged, is that of migration, where we are witnessing unprecedented population shifts. There are over 65 million migrants forced to flee their homes and their livelihood. These are people whose lives are at the mercy of decisions, legal and political, that condition the status assigned to them. They repeatedly find themselves in situations of great vulnerability and often become prey to profiteers, torturers and traffickers.

As you know, the 2016 UN General Assembly Summit recalled that the goal of the 2030 Agenda is: “to facilitate the orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well managed migration policies”. The New York Declaration, adopted at the Summit, calls for two Global Compacts, one on Refugees and one on Migration, which are currently undergoing consultations and negotiations. Here the contribution of the NGOs is essential in encouraging States and other involved international institutions toward an effective and responsible solidarity, in the examination of the commitments that will be taken and in supporting their implementation so that the Compacts may achieve their purpose.

In this regard, especially when considering the rising trend of political nationalism and a populist mentality, it is necessary and urgent to alleviate the causes of forced displacement, creating support networks in the countries of origin, but also in transit and destination. There are, furthermore, the challenges of the promotion and integration of migrants; indeed, there is a great task at hand where the effective collaboration of NGOs is needed.

10. In his Encyclical Letter Laudato si’, Pope Francis tells us that “everything is connected”, reminding us of the need to develop and sustain an integral ecology. With this in mind, I would like to mention the Paris Agreement on climate change. This agreement sends a clear political message favouring the transition toward a model of economic development with low or zero carbon consumption while encouraging solidarity with the most vulnerable populations. These are important steps that indicate where the industrial world, and the innovation and development technologies, should direct their future investments.

There remains much work to be done regarding the effectiveness and implementation of the so-called National Determined Contributions (NDCs), the voluntary contributions set at the national level to promote mitigation and adaptation to climate change. The continual updating of these contributions, as part of a five-year review, must be increasingly “ambitious”. In this regard, two important points emerge, including for the NGOs themselves: on the one hand, there is the need to monitor the implementation and updating of NDCs submitted by the States, which require a technical, economic and financial expertise; on the other hand, there is the need to consider the ethical and social dimensions of such a transition, with particular attention to education and the promotion of a way of life based on the integral ecology spoken of in Laudato si’.

In a more fundamental way, the phenomenon of climate change above all calls into question those aspects of an ethical-moral nature. The implementation of political or structural elements or the mere forces of the market, especially if these are lacking a correct ethical orientation, are not sufficient to solve the current crises of climate change and poverty. The strong link between the fight against climate change and extreme poverty is evident and it underscores the need to find a new model of development, based on new attitudes and forms of living. As Laudato si’ warns, a “great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal” (202).

11. Underlying all of these aforementioned concerns is perhaps the most challenging, the respect, defence and promotion of fundamental human rights, based on the recognition that all people are born with inherent and equal dignity and therefore enjoy the right to life, which must be upheld and protected in all stages, from conception to natural death. Even though international law and UN documents recognize this right, it continues to be ignored, minimized, and even attacked. The right to life of the unborn; of migrants in search of safety; of victims of armed conflict; of the poor; of the elderly and the right to life of those facing the death penalty continues to be dismissed and debated rather than prioritized.

An integral understanding of human rights and human dignity also requires recognition of the social, cultural, political and spiritual rights of all people. A constitutive element of these rights is the freedom of thought, conscience and religion, which includes the freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and the freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest one’s religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. According to recent UN Reports, the freedom of religion and belief is being trampled upon and ridiculed in many parts of the world. Even as we speak, people continue to be persecuted, imprisoned and at times killed purely for their religious beliefs. In some corners of the world, the persecution of minorities has risen to the level of ethnic and religious cleansing and other forms of mass atrocities. In other cases, religious minorities are discriminated against for their attire or are forced to choose between their beliefs and their employment.

On the other hand, intolerant interpretations of certain religious beliefs can become a source of discrimination when it is used and abused to define national identity and unity. In certain cases, a misinterpretation of religion can be an accomplice with State-induced discrimination and stigmatization. Renewed and sustained attention and action to protect and promote the freedom of religion or belief is therefore of fundamental importance if we are to make meaningful gains in the protection and promotion of human rights.

12. Dear friends, the landscape set before us is immense and complex but, at the same time, promising. Relative to this vast panorama, our work in the international field may sometimes appear small and insignificant, like the “mustard seed” of the Gospel parable, but in it there is a source of hope which is capable of developing and achieving ends that benefit the common good of all. An effective and fruitful collaboration between your organizations and the Holy See can prove helpful to reach these goals we share in common due to our faith in Christ. As a great saint would say, Teresa of Avila, “in these times, strong friends of God are needed”. Thank you.