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Thursday 22 March 2018

Pope Francis urges world leaders to protect the environment

Pope Francis addresses the United Nations General Assembly (AP)
Pope Francis addresses the United Nations General Assembly (AP)
Pope Francis arrives on Fifth Avenue on his way to St Patrick's Cathedral in New York (The New York Times/AP)

Pope Francis has said there is a "right of the environment" and that mankind has no authority to abuse it, during a speech at the United Nations.

He told more than 100 world leaders and diplomats that urgent action is needed to halt the destruction of God's creation.

Hoping to spur concrete commitments at upcoming climate change negotiations in Paris, Francis accused the world's powerful countries of indulging a "selfish and boundless thirst" for money by ravaging the planet's natural resources and impoverishing the weak and disadvantaged in the process.

He asserted that the poor have inherent rights to education and what he has termed the "three Ls" - lodging, labour and land.

Francis' speech, the fifth by a pope to the UN, was a distillation of his recent teaching document on the environment, Praise Be, which has delighted liberals and environmentalists and drawn scorn from big business interests.

By bringing the document to life before the UN, Francis made clear his priorities.

"Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity," he said.

His speech kicked off what was expected to be a whirlwind day in New York that blended the powerful and the poor, from the solemnity of ground zero to the struggles of East Harlem.

His visit was scheduled to include events as large as a processional drive through Central Park, as personal as meetings with schoolchildren and immigrants, and as inspiring for the faithful as mass for thousands at Madison Square Garden.

Francis was greeted on his arrival at the UN by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a key supporter of his eco-friendly agenda. In his opening remarks, Mr Ban praised Francis for his moral leadership.

"You are at home not in palaces, but among the poor; not with the famous, but with the forgotten; not in official portraits, but in selfies with young people," he said.

While his visit marked the fifth time a pope has addressed the United Nations, the Vatican flag was raised for the first time just before Francis' arrival. The General Assembly recently agreed to allow the UN's two observer states, the Holy See and Palestine, to fly their flags alongside those of the 193 member states.

Speaking in the packed General Assembly hall, Francis stated that "a right of the environment" exists.

He said the universe is the result of a "loving decision by the creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the creator: He is not authorised to abuse it, much less destroy it."

Echoing his encyclical's key message, he said a "selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged."

He called for immediate access for the world's poor to adequate food, water and housing, as well as religious freedom.

He drew applause when he called for a reform of the UN system and international financial agencies to give poor countries a greater say.

That, he said, would ensure that they are not subjected to "oppressive lending systems, which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence".

While his speech carried a progressive social message, Francis also made clear that he firmly upholds the church's unchanging doctrine on life issues.

He called for the "absolute respect for life in all its stages" - including the unborn. He cited "moral law written in nature itself" in insisting there is a natural difference between men and women. The Catholic Church has been on a campaign to denounce "gender theory" and the idea that people can choose their sex.

And he repeated his denunciation of the "ideological colonisation" of the developing world - a reference to how Western, progressive ideas about contraception and gay rights are often imposed on poor nations as a condition for development aid.

After the UN, the pope was scheduled to visit the 9/11 memorial, where two waterfall pools mark the outlines of the World Trade Centre's twin towers before they were toppled by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

He was expected to meet relatives of some of the nearly 3,000 victims before heading below ground to the September 11 museum for an interfaith service.

Press Association

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