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Intervention of H.E. Archbishop Renato R. MARTINO
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See
before the Third Committee
of the 54th Session of the General Assembly

Social Development, Including Questions Relating
to the World Social Situation and to Youth, Ageing,
Disabled Persons and the Family

New York, 7 October 1999

Mr. Chairman,

The Holy See is pleased to take part in this discussion on Social Development and questions relating to the World Social Situation. In particular, the Holy See wishes to join those who have expressed their respect and support for all members of the human family and especially the more vulnerable among us - young people, older persons, and persons with disabilities. In addressing the theme of social development, it is altogether appropriate that we focus our attention on its natural setting, that of the family.

In his Message on the Occasion of the International Day of Families, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, once remarked, “We must restore the sacredness of the family as a bedrock of humane values everywhere, in peace as well as in war. The future of peace and prosperity that we seek for all the world’s peoples needs a foundation of tolerance, security, equality and justice. That foundation is the family. It is only by protecting families, from famine as well as from fragmentation, that they can prosper and contribute to the family of nations that is the United Nations.” (1)

The Holy See wishes to express its complete and unequivocal agreement with this statement. By stressing the sacred and fundamental nature of the family, the Secretary- General has recognized several significant facts:

1) that all nations are, in a general sense, a collection of individual families,

2) that governments fulfill a moral obligation in their protection of the family, and

3) that the family serves as an intergenerational link to the past and the future and draws individuals out of their own concerns for self-preservation.

In an age when technology makes the world seem physically smaller and individuals tend to be spiritually isolated and separated from one another, the restoration of the family is the surest remedy for many of our social ills.

While several of our contemporaries have noted the importance of the family, words alone will not suffice in the task before us; the sacredness of this institution requires actions on our part. First and foremost comes the principle that the family is based on the marriage of a man and a woman, for “[m]arriage is a unique communion of persons, and it is on this communion that the family is called to become a community of persons.(2) There must also be an awareness that each and every human life is a most precious gift, that pregnancy is not a disease, that children are a blessing, that persons with disabilities are worthy of our special care and consideration and older persons of our veneration and esteem. With these simple beginnings, the Holy See is confident that even greater improvements to the World Social Situation will be more tangible.

Mr. Chairman,

Recognizing both the universal and particular values of the family, Pope John Paul II has written that the family is “a path common to all, yet one which is particular, unique, unrepeatable, just as every individual is unrepeatable; it is a path from which man cannot withdraw.(3) This path takes the human person through various stages, beginning with childhood. Parents have a special responsibility to care for and educate their children and must be given the proper recognition. Along these lines, the Holy See stresses the correct application of the principle of subsidiarity, which “implies the legitimacy and indeed the need of giving assistance to the parents, but finds its intrinsic and absolute limit in their prevailing right and their actual capabilities.(4) In conjunction with the principle of solidarity, subsidiarity provides a good measure of guidance for both the family and the State.

At the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth held in Lisbon over one year ago, the Holy See reiterated the fact that there must be an inseparable connection between policies in favor of youth and policies in favor of the family. Just as the family is the natural home and school for the child, it is also where young people grow into mature adults. Because youth is often a time of high ideas, it is imperative that the family nurtures the aspirations of young generations “to contribute to the building of a new world, founded on the power of love and forgiveness, on the struggle against injustice and all physical, moral and spiritual distress, [and] on the orientation of politics, economy, culture and technology to the service of man and his integral development.(5) In a strong family, parents transmit to their children the fundamental values that lead to their becoming virtuous men and women who help shape a truly peaceful and prosperous world.

Not all families are in the same situation. To cite just one example, the situation of families who have to care for persons with disabilities appears to be an exceptional and trying case. In reality, however, these special cases can bring a family closer together and offer opportunities for truly noble actions. In no case should persons with disabilities be considered any less human or less worthy of life, for the mark of a humane society is the respect it accords to all human life. Proper assistance must be given to families who care for their disabled loved ones.

Mr. Chairman, as we approach the end of the International Year of Older Persons, the Holy See wishes to focus on a theme that has also drawn the attention of the Secretary-General: intergenerational solidarity. It is evident that our bustling democratic and commercial societies place a high premium on youth; this tendency or prejudice often leaves older persons feeling neglected or unwanted. But, to put it simply, the patrimony of human experience, humanity itself, is humiliated when we ignore the wisdom and common sense of our elders. Not only do they deserve our support for all they have done for us; they may continue to contribute to society. For instance, they may be of great help to young couples in assisting with the raising of grandchildren.(6) Through appropriate policies, States should ensure that these respected and venerable persons are able to participate in the life of society.

In such ways, “the family in all its members will know how to guard, reveal and communicate love.(7)

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

(1) Message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the occasion of the International Day of Families, 15 May 1997; emphasis added.

(2)” Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families, n. 10

(3)” Ibid., n. 2

(4)” Ibid., n. 16; cf., Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (1931): “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate associations can do.”

(5)” Pope John Paul II, Message for 15th World Youth Day, 29 June 1999

(6) Cf., Pope John Paul II, Reflection before reciting the Angelus, 25 July 1999

(7)” Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, n. 17