“Solidarity must not be an empty word or promise”, Pope Francis has warned the UN on the social recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic.

– Path to “self-sufficiency, nationalism, protectionism, individualism and isolation” post-pandemic “must not prevail”

“This crisis is changing our way of life, calling into question our economic, health and social systems, and exposing our human fragility”, the pontiff told delegates at the Seventy-Fifth Session of the United Nations’ General Assembly in a video message Friday.

Francis said that the pandemic “can represent a concrete opportunity for conversion, for transformation, for rethinking our way of life and our economic and social systems, which are widening the gap between rich and poor based on an unjust distribution of resources” – but only as long as the world does not slide into a “‘defensive retreat’ into greater individualism and elitism”.

In terms of recovering from the social effects of the coronavirus, the Pope stressed that that individual countries and the international community are faced “with a choice between two possible paths”.

“One path leads to the consolidation of multilateralism as the expression of a renewed sense of global co-responsibility, a solidarity grounded in justice and the attainment of peace and unity within the human family, which is God’s plan for our world”, Francis recalled.

“The other path emphasizes self-sufficiency, nationalism, protectionism, individualism and isolation; it excludes the poor, the vulnerable and those dwelling on the peripheries of life.

That second path of self-sufficiency “would certainly be detrimental to the whole community, causing self-inflicted wounds on everyone. It must not prevail”, the Pope emphasised.

– “Throwaway culture… an attack against humanity itself”

In his message today, the Pope ran through a veritable checklist of milestones along that path post-COVID to a reinforced national and global solidarity, from reinforcing public health systems to the need “to find new forms of work truly capable of fulfilling our human potential and affirming our dignity”.

On that need for dignified employment to respond to the widespread retrenchments during the pandemic, Francis highlighted that “there must be a change in the prevailing economic paradigm, which seeks only to expand companies’ profits”.

Along with a fix to the profit-centred economy, the Pope pleaded for solutions to what he has repeatedly called the modern world’s inhumane “culture of waste”.

“At the origin of this ‘throwaway culture’ is a gross lack of respect for human dignity, the promotion of ideologies with reductive understandings of the human person, a denial of the universality of fundamental human rights, and a craving for absolute power and control that is widespread in today’s society”, Francis deplored, adding: “Let us name this for what it is: an attack against humanity itself”.

“It is… painful to see the number of fundamental human rights that in our day continue to be violated with impunity”, the Pope continued in his attack on the “throwaway culture” that has taken hold in modern societies.

“The list of such violations is indeed lengthy, and offers us a frightening picture of a humanity abused, wounded, deprived of dignity, freedom and hope for the future”, he decried.

The increase in the number of weapons of mass destruction now employed in combat, the “great numbers of people are being forced to leave their homes”, the “intolerable” number of victims of “human trafficking, sexual slavery or forced labour, exploited in degrading jobs and denied a just wage”… the Pope criticised the fact that “the numerous and significant international efforts to respond to these crises begin with great promise… yet many lack the necessary political support to prove successful”.

On international development and global warming, too, Francis lamented that “even though some progress has been made, the international community has shown itself largely incapable of honouring the promises made five years ago”, both with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and with that of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

– There is still hope… as long as we “rethink the future of our common home and our common project”

Despite these shortcomings and failures of international diplomacy, the Pope recalled that there is still hope for a just future post-COVID-19. as evidenced by the recent adoption of a global ceasefire during the coronavirus crisis, which the Pope hailed as “a very noble step”.

“We never emerge from a crisis just as we were. We come out either better or worse. This is why, at this critical juncture, it is our duty to rethink the future of our common home and our common project“, the Pope highlighted to the UN delegates.

He warned “a complex task lies before us, one that requires a frank and coherent dialogue aimed at strengthening multilateralism and cooperation between states. The present crisis has further demonstrated the limits of our self-sufficiency as well as our common vulnerability. It has forced us to think clearly about how we want to emerge from this: either better or worse”.

“The pandemic has shown us that we cannot live without one another, or worse still, pitted against one another”, the Pope concluded, before recalling that 75 years ago “the United Nations was established to bring nations together, to be a bridge between peoples”.

“Let us make good use of this institution in order to transform the challenge that lies before us into an opportunity to build together, once more, the future we all desire”, the Pope urged.

To read the full text of the Pope’s address to the UN, follow this link to the Vatican website

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.