- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2008

NEW YORK — Pope Benedict XVI yesterday praised the United Nations’ role in protecting human rights around the globe, urging the world body to do more to guarantee the freedoms of those living under oppressive governments.

In a 20-minute address to diplomats and the governments they represent, the pope firmly placed the U.N. and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the center of ongoing struggles to guarantee freedom, security and development.

“The promotion of human rights remains the most effective strategy for eliminating inequalities between countries and social groups, and for increasing security,” he said.

“Indeed, the victims of hardship and despair, whose human dignity is violated with impunity, become easy prey to the call to violence, and they can then become violators of peace,” he said.

The pontiff declared that countries have a responsibility to step in and protect civilians and restore fundamental human rights when governments cannot or will not — a contentious theory that challenges national sovereignty and is only gingerly embraced even by its supporters.

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  • “If states are unable to guarantee such protection, the international community must intervene with the juridical means provided in the United Nations Charter and in other international instruments.” he said.

    The overall three-hour visit was the fourth by a pope to the United Nations — one by Paul VI and two by John Paul II — and enthusiastically received, winning a standing ovation from the usually staid world diplomatic corps as Benedict entered the General Assembly chamber. He greeted diplomats and staff members, and stressed a message of universal respect for human dignity and the need for a global effort to alleviate poverty and respect the rule of law.

    “My presence at this assembly is a sign of esteem for the United Nations, and it is intended to express the hope that the organization will increasingly serve as a sign of unity between states and an instrument of service to the entire human family,” Benedict said.

    Benedict looked somewhat tired as he began his third full day in the U.S. in New York. But Washington wanted to enjoy every last minute with him as about 150 young adults, representing different parishes and Catholic schools, arrived at dawn at the Vatican Embassy there to pay tribute as well as say goodbye to the pope.

    The faithful began by singing “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” in the early sunshine. They also cheered “Benedict! Benedict! Benedict!” and waved the yellow-and-white Vatican flag. Benedict waved to the crowd and then shook some hands.

    Tala Burnison, 24, and Kyle Ludvik, 23, were two of those who shook hands with the pope. The two missionaries from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students said the experience was “overwhelming but wonderful.” Mr. Ludvik said Benedict’s “smile said it all.”

    Monsignor Rob Panke, vocations director for the Washington Archdiocese, said “you can feel the energy” when so many young people greet the pope.

    While Benedict was leaving for New York from Andrews Air Force Base, outside Washington, President Bush was lauding him at the fifth annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast as a “humble servant of God.

    “He is a brilliant professor. He is a warm and generous soul. He is courageous in the defense of fundamental truths,” said the president, who also touched on the need to save Catholic inner-city schools, his track record in creating “a culture of life,” and on the fight to preserve religious freedoms.

    Mr. Bush pronounced the pope’s visit to Washington “a joyous time for Catholics.”

    “It wasn’t such a bad week for Methodists,” said Mr. Bush, drawing laughs from the crowd and saying that Wednesday’s ceremony on the South Lawn was “just such a special moment.”

    Mr. Bush, who could be heard telling the pope after his Wednesday address, “Awesome speech,” said he appreciated Benedict’s message that “faith and reason” can and should coexist, and supported the pope’s criticism of terrorism committed by Muslim extremists.

    “Religion should be a source of understanding and grace, not a source of extremism and violence,” Mr. Bush said.

    But Benedict’s New York address pointedly did not refer to any of the specific political and military crises that make for U.N. business: The war in Iraq, the violence in Darfur and Somalia, nuclear proliferation or even terrorism.

    Instead, his remarks — the first of which was delivered in French and the second in English — were a broad appeal to respect “the human family” and spread the benefits of globalization to all corners, especially the most marginalized countries in Africa.

    He frequently returned during his remarks to the obligation of governments to protect and support their citizens, permitting them to exercise their innate freedom to worship and to live in peace and security.

    “Each state has the primary duty to protect its own population from grave and sustained violations of human rights, as well as from the consequences of humanitarian crises, whether natural or man-made,” the pontiff said.

    When legitimate, he said, these interventions “should never be interpreted as an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty. On the contrary, it is indifference or failure to intervene that do the real damage.”

    Speaking slowly and in a slightly hoarse voice, Benedict urged diplomats to use morality as a guide in their decision making and not to “fall back” to a consensus position that is “minimal in content and weak in its effect.” At the same time, he warned against allowing action to be “subordinated to the decisions of a few,” a possible reference to Iraq.

    The pope cut an electrifying figure yesterday, his white satin robes and skullcap atop thick gray hair reflecting the camera flashes of hundreds of U.N. staff and dignitaries who lined up to meet him. Later, he entered the Indonesian Lounge for the quintessential U.N. activity: the receiving line.

    Marjorie Bloomberg Tiven, sister of New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and head of the city’s liaison office with the diplomatic corps, committed a major faux pas by stepping up on the little platform that elevates the pontiff, instead of looking up toward him from below.

    Benedict next went back into the General Assembly chamber to thank the U.N. the staff members for their work. The younger and less-formal group greeted him even more enthusiastically than the diplomats had — filling the grand ceremonial hall with cheers and whoops.

    “We remember the vast multitude who have dedicated their lives to work that is never sufficiently acknowledged, often in difficult circumstances,” Benedict said in thanking the U.N. staff.

    Benedict looked genuinely surprised and touched as he entered, smiling broadly and raising his hands in a widescreen blessing.

    “This organization performs an important service, in the name of the international community, by monitoring the extent to which governments fulfill their responsibility to protect their citizens,” he told the staff. “On a day-to-day level, it is you who lay the foundations on which that work is built — by the concern you show for one another in the workplace, and by your solicitude for the many peoples whose needs and aspirations you serve in all that you do.”

    The Catholic Church has been an active nonstate member of the United Nations since 1964, contributing a token amount to the regular budget and supporting specific humanitarian and development efforts, and its volunteers and nongovernmental organizations are active in the field.

    Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted yesterday that the U.N. has six official languages, but no official religion.

    “But if you ask those of us who work for the United Nations what motivates us, many of us reply in a language of faith. We see what we do not only as a job, but as a mission,” the South Korean said to the pontiff in his introduction. “In so many ways, our mission unites us with yours.”

    Hsin-yin Lee and Jon Ward contributed to this report from Washington.

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