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Mons. Silvano Maria Tomasi

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Vatican Official at UN: International Organizations Need More Realistic Concept of Human Person

“The more the individual shuts himself in himself the more he destroys himself”

If international organizations are to be effective, there needs to be an understanding of the human person that is more realistic than the current one.

This was suggested by Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See at the UN in Geneva, in this interview with ZENIT, given in Rimini, Italy. Archbishop Tomasi has been a guest at the Rimini Meeting of Friendship Among Peoples, where he intervened in the debate “Emergencies in the World: The Role of International Organizations.”

ZENIT: Excellency, you spoke at the Rimini Meeting of Friendship Among Peoples of the “creativity of the person” as instrument, as opposed to the individualism that afflicts the entire international community. How can we describe the current situation?

Archbishop Tomasi: We are at the end of an historical cycle. The United Nations was founded 70 years ago so that the horrors of the tragedies of World War II just ended wouldn’t be repeated, and to help the growth of the poorest countries. Beginning in ’68, with the Woodstock cultural revolution, a philosophy arose and a different way of reading reality: the interest of the individual prevails over those of the community, freedom is exalted without taking too much into consideration the consequences of the actions carried out. In face of this philosophy the sense of solidarity towards the whole human family was progressively weakened, therefore common action became ever more difficult.

There is the sensation and the conviction that international organizations are weak, over-bureaucratized and difficult to manage. Consequently, new structures are arising, such as the World Economic Forum of Davos or, for instance, the new bank created by BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) with the objective of counter-balancing the IMF and the World Bank. We are, therefore, in a sort of limbo between something that no longer works and something that is not yet consolidated.

For international organizations to be constructive it is important that a series of values be followed and a reading of the human person that is more realistic than the present one. Not to be forgotten is that the person is, by nature, open to the other, not shut in on himself, prey to his passions, desires and interests. The more the individual shuts himself in himself the more he destroys himself. It is only in relation to others and to the Other that we find the answer and the possibility to create a communal action that is effective in today’s world.

ZENIT: In a month Pope Francis will speak at the United Nations in New York: what impact could his address have?

Archbishop Tomasi: Pope Francis’ visit to the United Nations will certainly be a historic moment, with the possibility on the part of the Holy Father to speak of the priorities that he sees as urgent and necessary. I can’t prophesy about the topics the Pope will speak about, however, it is presumable that he will address the fact that today’s world is tormented by a series of hotbeds of violence and that Christians are often victims of abuses and persecution. Therefore, he will put the accent on freedom of conscience and religion, also to give a sign of encouragement, in particular to the Christian communities of the Middle East that find themselves in a truly dramatic situation and of continual suffering.

The fact that the Pope speaks to the United Nations reveals that on one hand the Church gives a certain weight to this international structure, and on the other hand that she hopes that this organization can become ever more effective in promoting the common good. To have an international structure that truly responds to the present needs, which have greatly changed since the end of World War II, it is necessary to have as an objective and profound conviction the interest of the whole human family and not only of individuals of sectorial and very limited interests.

In the long run the common good is that which comes of a correct understanding of the human person, putting him at the center of everything. The profound aspiration of the human heart is to find answers to those desires that come from his innermost being. International structures will be truly effective if they are able to contribute to such answers already present at the moment of their foundation.

ZENIT: How is the problem of migrants framed in this scenario?

Archbishop Tomasi: The majority of persons that come to Europe come from countries such as Syria or Libya, destabilized by Western interventions or as Eritrea, where the systematic violation of human rights drives young people to leave the country. The cause of the present exodus, therefore, is also in the actions carried out in a not very wise way in the past. We are facing a displacement of populations unequaled since the end of World War II. It is a global phenomenon, which doesn’t concern only Europe: we think of the migrations from Myanmar to Indonesia or Australia, or of Africa to the Arab Peninsula through the Red Sea. Africa itself is characterized by significant migrations from one country to another. At least 240 million people live in countries different from those where they were born. The issue of migrations is one of the great priorities of the international community and of the European countries.

In several elections that have taken place in the last years, many parties have sought to direct the electoral consensus by appealing to opposition to immigration. As Christians we have the duty to receive persons at risk, in particular the refugees, for whom, moreover, the almost totality of European countries has ratified the Convention on Refugees of 1951 and the subsequent Protocol. Others don’t respond to the status of refugee and are driven to emigrate for the most desperate reasons. In the present debate, in addition to how many persons we can accept and in what ways and where we can place them, there is the need to create structures of fitting hospitality, which is being done. Moreover, we cannot ignore the subsequent step: what type of integration is envisioned? The duty of hospitality is founded on the ancient tradition of hospitality and on the Christian message. On the other hand, the right to preserve one’s identity, namely those fundamental values typical of the Greco-Roman and Christian tradition represent a right also in as much as they render a just coexistence possible.

We must balance these two factors. In the duty to receive persons, there must also be talk of some conditions such as the acceptance of religious freedom, of cultural pluralism, of respect of democracy. Anyone who finds refuge in other countries must accept this nucleus of fundamental values.

ZENIT: Whether for one who emigrates, or for one who receives, can migrations become an opportunity of evangelization?

Archbishop Tomasi: It is a subject that is not much talked about but is a reality in many countries. There are, for instance, Filipino communities in several parts of the Islamic world (in particular in the area of the Persian Gulf), which represent a genuine Christian presence in a place where before there were no Christians. Therefore, immigration can become an occasion of witness of the Christian faith. In regard to the countries of reception, the local Churches must not be timid but must have the courage to propose the Gospel with the greatest liberty and in total respect of the conscience of all the new arrivals, making it seen that another way exists to start off in life, based on Jesus’ message. This bears very creative social and personal consequences such as to be able to give an answer to the profound questions of persons.

[Translation by ZENIT]

About Luca Marcolivio

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