At the U.N., Pope Condemns Greed and Thirst for Power

Pope Francis addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Tony Gentile/Reuters

In his first address to the United Nations, Pope Francis denounced greed and hunger for power that he said fueled poverty and contributed to the destruction of the environment.

"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," the pope said in a speech that focused on the moral duty to help the most vulnerable of the world's people.

@Pontifex arrives! #UNSG Ban Ki-moon meets him @UN. Next up - remarks to staff & finally at #UNGA. Follow us LIVE!

— UN Spokesperson (@UN_Spokesperson) September 25, 2015

"The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species," he said, condemning what he called "The baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for wealth and power."

"Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a very grave offence against human rights and the environment," Pope Francis said during his speech. "The poorest are the ones who suffer the most... They are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the consequences of the abuse of the environment."

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

The pope said he was confident that the U.N.'s climate conference in December in Paris would result in "fundamental and effective agreements," but added that commitments were not enough to create concrete change.

The 78-year-old pope also talked about war during his speech, urging the international community "to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities" in places like Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region in Africa.

Pope Francis addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York. "Justice is an essential condition for achieving the ideal of universal fraternity," the pope said. "The limitation of power is an idea implicit in the idea of law itself." Tony Gentile/Reuters

"I must renew my repeated appeals regarding to the painful situation of the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups, and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement," the pope said.

During his remarks, which lasted about 30 minutes and received a standing ovation, Pope Francis called the drug trade a "conflict, not so open, but silently killing millions of people." He also said there is an "urgent need" to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and referred obliquely to the recent agreement between Iran and world powers to curb Tehran's nuclear program, saying it was "proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy."

Following his speech, the U.N. adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of benchmarks for countries to achieve in the next 15 years and a continuation of the Millennium Development Goals, which expired this year.

Among the world leaders and international figures watching Pope Francis's speech were philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates and Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai. After Pope Francis left the General Assembly hall for the September 11 memorial in Lower Manhattan, singer Shakira serenaded the remaining audience with a rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine."

Before his speech, the Pope spoke to elated U.N. staff members, who shouted "Papa!" and cheered, in the lobby of the General Assembly building.

Standing in the security line for the visitors entrance on First Avenue and 46th Street, Rasika Rijal, who works in human resources for the U.N.'s Department of Peacekeeping, said she was lucky to nab a ticket to see the pope address U.N. staff.

Despite being a Hindu from India, Rijal said she was excited to see the pope in person. Apart from seeming like "a nice human being," his interest in helping the homeless is something she supports and admires. "That makes him my hero," said Rijal, clutching a camera. "I'm here to support his cause."

The pope's speech was covered by journalists from the BBC to the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation, and from many countries, including Turkmenistan and Canada. One of the journalists setting up was Sherif Barakat, a senior news anchor with Egyptian satellite TV channel Alhayat. He was excited about covering the pope's visit, a story "all the Western channels are speaking about." Asked to compare covering the pope to another major news event, Barakat said: "It's like the man visiting the moon."

Editor's pick

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts