By Elizabeth Lev
ROME, MAY 15, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Sixty years ago, during the U.N. General Assembly meeting in December 1948, some 48 nations voted to approve the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Eleanor Roosevelt, who was both a U.S. delegate to the General Assembly and the chairman of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, declared on that occasion, “The delegation of the United States believes that this is a good document, even a great document, and we are prepared to give it our full support.”
Last May 2, the United States again paid homage to the declaration. The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See organized a daylong academic conference at the Regina Apostolorum university, the first in a series of conferences celebrating 25 years of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and the Holy See.
In recognition of the decisive role played by Latin American diplomats in the international human rights movement that arose after World War II, this first event was devoted to “Latin America and the International Human Rights Project: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” The embassies of Costa Rica and Chile to the Holy See co-hosted the forum.
The first half of the conference recalled a part of the history of the Universal Declaration that has been nearly forgotten — the fact that Latin American and Caribbean nations, constituting 20 of the original 50 U.N. member states, were instrumental both in securing the references to human rights in the U.N. Charter and in the framing of the declaration itself.
The speakers examined the genesis of the document through the lens of the essential contributions of Latin America, whose tradition of Catholic social thought had long enriched the region’s understanding of human rights.
The opening talk was given to a packed room by Paolo Carozza, a professor at the Notre Dame Law School, who was unanimously elected in March to the presidency of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.
Carozza traced the human rights tradition in Latin America from Bartolomé de las Casas, the 16-century bishop who championed the cause of justice for indigenous peoples, through the development of a distinctive approach that blended ideas from Europe and the United States with principles from Catholic social thought.
The U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon, continued the story in the second talk, describing the activities of a “great generation” of Latin American and Caribbean diplomats in the early United Nations, and the influence of their way of thinking about rights and responsibilities in the process that led up to the approval of the declaration.
The conference then took on a different format. The lights dimmed as a video screen was lowered into the room.
But no banal PowerPoint display was in the works. Above the heads of the gathered ambassadors played archival footage of Eleanor Roosevelt introducing the original members of the United Nation’s first Human Rights Commission.
The video, created especially for the occasion by U.S. Embassy staffer Amy Roth, featured the faces and voices of some of the principal contributors to the declaration.
One of these was Guy Pérez-Cisneros, a brilliant young Cuban diplomat who had been a key player at the U.N.’s founding in 1945 and in the debates that led up to the final approval of the universal declaration.
What made this interlude particularly moving was the presence of Pérez-Cisneros’s son Pablo, looking up at the image of his father while hearing his impassioned speech delivered on that historic evening, Dec. 10, 1948.
Immediately following the video, the audience heard personal reminiscences about these great Latin American diplomats. Besides Pablo Pérez-Cisneros, Panama’s Ambassador Lawrence Chewning recalled the distinguished career of Ricardo J. Alfaro, and the Chilean Ambassador Pablo Carera Gaete paid tribute to Hernán Santa Cruz. Gaete served as a secretary to Santa Cruz, who was a Chilean delegate to the United Nations and member of the declaration’s drafting committee.
The entire conference was punctuated by unusual yet appropriate elements. During the lunch break, Ecuadorian minstrels strolled through the atrium, offering a pleasant interlude between the busy morning and afternoon sessions.
The location of the conference, Regina Apostolorum, was another inspired choice. The university is run by the Legionaries of Christ, founded in Mexico by Father Marcial Maciel in 1941, a few years before the universal declaration was passed.
The seminarians, many from Latin America, attended the talks during the breaks between their classes. The alert, fascinated young faces of these young men gave contemporary testimony to the energetic resurgence of the Church in Latin America.
Less than a month ago when Benedict XVI addressed the United Nations during his U.S. visit, he reminded the assembled body, “This document was the outcome of a convergence of different religious and cultural traditions, all of them motivated by the common desire to place the human person at the heart of institutions, laws and the workings of society.”
At the same time the Holy Father stated, “The rights recognized and expounded in the declaration apply to everyone by virtue of the common origin of the person, who remains the highpoint of God’s creative design for the world and for history.”
The afternoon sparkled with talks by Guzman Carriquiry, the undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and María Sara Rodriguez Pinto of the University of the Andes in Chile.
Their papers focused on how the Catholic vision of the dignity of the human person was woven into the declaration through the efforts of the Latin American delegations.
The day ended on a high note as Thomas Shannon, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western hemisphere affairs, looked at the present situations in Latin America.
Shannon painted an exciting picture indicating that while the world’s attention had been focused elsewhere, several countries in Latin America were again taking the lead in implementing Human Rights initiatives.
The success of the day was best reflected in the beaming faces of the numerous ambassadors present, taking pride in the achievements of their own nations in shaping what Eleanor Roosevelt called the “the Magna Carta of all men everywhere.”
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Fraternity of St. Peter Milestone
Last week brought wonderful news for fans of the traditional rite of the Mass here in Rome. The Diocese of Rome established a personal parish to be run by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter in the stately Church of the Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini.
This was not only a source of joy for friends of the fraternity, but in many ways a relief since their former quarters of San Gregorio dei Muratori were very small and cramped for the large crowds that gathered for many of their liturgical events.
In the wake of Benedict XVI’s apostolic letter “Summorum Pontificum,” Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope’s vicar for Rome, proposed giving Trinità dei Pellegrini over to the fraternity.
On Easter Sunday the Holy Father decreed the erection of the parish “in order to guarantee proper pastoral care for the entire community of traditional faithful residing in the same diocese.”
This is a milestone for the fraternity; it is not only the 10th apostolate that has been erected as a full personal parish, but also the first to be established in Europe.
I spoke to Fraternity of St. Peter Father Joseph Kramer who has been named the first pastor of Trinità dei Pelligrini, as well as rector of the church, shortly after the official announcement May 7.
Father Kramer explained that the apostolate of the Fraternity of St. Peter was started here in Rome in 1988 under the auspices of commission of Ecclesia Dei with papal approval. Today there are 200 priests of the fraternity in dioceses all over the world serving the faithful who are attached to the Mass and sacraments of the traditional Roman rite.
Speaking about what the new parish would mean to the fraternity, Father Kramer first acknowledged “the great sign of trust on the part of the diocese, but also involved great responsibility because Rome has always been an example to the rest of the Church.”
Continuing, he expressed his wish that “the Rome parish would set a good example not only of pastoral service but also of the beauty and solemnity of the extraordinary form of the Mass to the many pilgrims who flock to Rome.”
Trinità de Pelligrini was home to the Archconfraternity of Pilgrims and Convalescents, a charitable institution founded by St. Philip Neri to care for the poor and the sick, especially pilgrims. Father Kramer’s new appointment also made him chaplain of the archconfraternity, and I asked him how they would be continuing St. Philip’s apostolate.
“St. Philip seems to have been the first to begin the Forty Hours’ Devotion here in Rome and we will certainly continue this tradition at the church,” replied Father Kramer, “but we are also interested in practical charity toward convalescents in their homes.”
“Like St. Philip who cared for those who had been dismissed from overfilled hospitals in the 16 century, so we will visit and look after those who are ill and homebound,” added Father Kramer.
“Also, we plan to set up a center to welcome the many student pilgrims to Rome,” said Father Kramer. “There are new university programs opening all the time in the city and we would like to become a spiritual point of reference for those who come here not only to study, but to deepen their faith.”
Trinità was built in 1597 in the wake of the Tridentine liturgical reform, and Father Kramer noted the numerous features that make the church ideal for the fraternity.
“The visibility of the altar and the raised, large, well-lit sanctuary with the broad altar rail, follow the great post-Tridentine church constructions such as the Gesù and the Chiesa Nuova.” he said. “While there are eight side chapels, there are no side aisles and everything focuses on the main high altar.”
The church contains several artistic treasures as well. Cavalier d’Arpino, the former employer of Caravaggio, painted the Virgin and Ssaints for one chapel, while Baldassare Croce’s “St. Gregory the Great Freeing Souls From Purgatory” adorns another.
The high altarpiece is a masterpiece painted by Guido Reni at the apex of his career. Reni produced The Holy Trinity for the Jubilee year of 1625, when thousands of pilgrims would visit to the church.
Reni’s brilliant chromatic effect of cold blues surrounding the crucified Christ on the lower half of the canvas giving way to the fiery golds and oranges of God the Father seated in Heaven make for a stunning backdrop to the Eucharist.
Father Kramer pointed out that “the fraternity follows the Holy Father in thinking that beautiful sacred music is an important part of prayerful participation in the Mass,” and consequently has a particular concern for the return of finest tradition of sacred music.
As of June 8, the official opening day of the parish, we can look forward to art, architecture and music reunited to the liturgy that inspired them.
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Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University’s Italian campus. She can be reached at [email protected].