In common with Pope Francis’ addresses at the White House and to Congress, the Holy Father chose not to mention Jesus Christ in his speech this morning to the United Nations. It’s understandably causing quite a bit of head-scratching among some Catholic commentators who are keen to point out that the Pope speaks in the name of Jesus, and should therefore explicitly invoke his name in order to direct national and world leaders to the light of Christ and His teaching. But this approach is not new: Benedict XVI didn’t refer to Christ in his speech at Westminster Hall in London in 2010, and made only one explicit reference to Him when he addressed the UN in 2008. (Pope St. John Paul II made six references to Christ in his speech there in 1995). It’s also generally not common for Holy See officials at the UN, as well as those in the First Section of the Secretariat of State who drafted the Pope’s UN speech today, to invoke the Lord’s name in speeches. They say this is primarily because they want their message to resonate with all people, and so at the UN prefer to choose the “language of human rights”, an approach which might make sense to their audience but can sound vague, relativist and lacking in supernatural character to the faithful.
Here’s how John Paul referenced Christ in the address 20 years ago, in one brief paragraph near the end of the speech:
As a Christian, my hope and trust are centered on Jesus Christ, the two thousandth anniversary of whose birth will be celebrated at the coming of the new millennium. We Christians believe that in his Death and Resurrection were fully revealed God’s love and his care for all creation. Jesus Christ is for us God made man, and made a part of the history of humanity. Precisely for this reason, Christian hope for the world and its future extends to every human person. Because of the radiant humanity of Christ, nothing genuinely human fails to touch the hearts of Christians. Faith in Christ does not impel us to intolerance. On the contrary, it obliges us to engage others in a respectful dialogue. Love of Christ does not distract us from interest in others, but rather invites us to responsibility for them, to the exclusion of no one and indeed, if anything, with a special concern for the weakest and the suffering. Thus, as we approach the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of Christ, the Church asks only to be able to propose respectfully this message of salvation, and to be able to promote, in charity and service, the solidarity of the entire human family.