Declaration at the World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen

Author: Angelo Cardinal Sodano


Cardinal Angelo Sodano

Given on March 12, 1995 by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State in Copenhagen, Denmark.

"Humanity is now taking leave of a century marked by two World Wars, the Cold War and numerous other regional and local conflicts which have destroyed immense human and material resources. It urgently needs a stable peace, and in order to achieve this peace humanity requires that the world's goods, which according to God's plan are destined for all, should be justly and peaceably shared. We cannot disappoint people's expectations!

"Our world is drawing near to a new millennium, with enormous technology at its disposal. There is now an opportunity, truly extraordinary in the history of humanity, to undertake action aimed at overcoming the poverty which still marks the world in so many ways.

"This World Summit represents a significant step in a movement which ought to result in the commitment of States, civil society and many citizens to give practical shape to the basic principle in the documents of this meeting: human beings are at the centre of development.

"1. The Pope's Greetings. From the time that the World Summit was first announced, Pope John Paul II has given it his decisive support. He has now entrusted me with the responsibility of expressing his heartfelt gratitude to the Secretary General of the United Nations and to all who have worked with him in promoting this historic meeting of Heads of State and Government.

"In a special way I greet Ambassador Juan Somavia who spearheaded the Summit and has guided its preparation. The Holy See also wishes to thank the Queen, the Danish Authorities for the cordial welcome they have extended for this meeting.

"2. The Church's Contribution. It is known to all that the mission of the Catholic Church is specifically religious. Even so, she does not neglect but resolutely faces the concrete situations in which men and women live in our world, above all situations which harm their transcendent dignity. A witness of this concern is the more than 270,000 Church educational and welfare Institutions, spread across all the continents. Side by side with these Institutions are many groups and movements, all of which are committed to human advancement and to fostering the freedom of individuals and peoples. This network of Institutions is looking to the World Summit as a significant event, capable of giving a fresh impulse to social development.

"3. The Christian Vision Of Development. A society which is not rooted in solid ethical values is a society without direction. It lacks the necessary foundation upon which the sought-after social development can be built and sustained.

"For this reason the Holy See is pleased to recognize that, right from the outset of the formulation of the Principles of the Declaration of this Summit, the commitment to promote a vision of social development which is "political, economic, ethical and spiritual ...with full respect for religious and ethical values and the cultural patrimony of persons" has been emphasized (Declaration, Principles and Objectives, No. 22). This statement echoes in a timely way what the late Pope Paul VI had affirmed in 1967 in one of his most significant magisterial pronouncements the Encyclical Populorum Progressio: "The development we speak of cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be well rounded; it must foster the development of each human being and of the whole human being" (No. 14).

"4. The Contribution Of Believers. In this context, I take the liberty of recalling what the Summit's documents affirm many times concerning respect for the religious values of peoples and individuals. The common values of the great religions are intimately linked to the most profound aspirations of humanity: the spiritual and transcendent dimension of the human person, the ability to make a gift of self, solidarity among peoples and the harmony which should exist among individuals and between them and the created world.

"Respect for religious values does not consist only in mere tolerance. Rather its aim should be to enable believers to contribute to society's development with the religious inspiration which is their most valuable possession. History and recent events testify to the commitment offered by believers in bringing relief and compassion to those living in poverty and social and cultural marginalization as well as enabling them to themselves become protagonists of their own development.

"5. The Mobilization Of Everyone. Indeed, if we wish to work with generous hearts for the social development of our societies, what is needed today is the involvement of everyone. The decisions made by Governments will offer an essential framework for social development. But if these steps are not accompanied by the active participation of civil society, they will have very little effect.

"In this respect it will be necessary to recover the sense of community, interdependence and solidarity which link individuals, generations, families and peoples. And, as Pope John Paul II states, solidarity "is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual because we are all really responsible for everyone else" (Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38, published on the twentieth anniversary of Populorum Progressio).

"The presence at our Summit of such a great number of non-governmental organizations shows how many people are convinced of the duty of solidarity. The Holy See is a witness to how very generous has been the response to appeals for solidarity in situations of tragic suffering existing in today's world. The authorities should be encouraged by these signs and recognize in them a true desire to seek a decisive political orientation in this regard. They should not let themselves be disheartened by the pressures of groups which reject solidarity or are guided by purely self-centred interests. Exaggerated nationalism, especially, is one of today's principal obstacles to development.

"6. The Family's Contribution. For this reason, the institutions to be safeguarded above all are the ones which promote effective solidarity between individuals, generations and peoples.

"Undoubtedly, the first of these institutions to be safeguarded is the family, the basic unit of society. The family, founded on marriage, is an institution which has belonged to the heritage of humanity from its very beginning. It is to be defended and fostered. It is essential to restore confidence in the family and to create a cultural climate which offers it the necessary stability to carry out its function of raising children and preparing them for life in society.

"It is urgently necessary that States should offer families proper recognition for the social value of their efforts, also through necessary financial support. If society counts so much on the educational mission of parents, it should foster their rights and responsibilities, particularly in the sphere of the transmission of values and the very difficult task of guiding children towards upright and responsible behaviour.

"7. The Centrality Of The Human Person. Furthermore, the principle, reaffirmed several times in the Summit's documents, that "the person is at the centre of sustainable development" should also be applied to laws in the sphere of economics. Pope John Paul II has affirmed that, even prior to the system of the exchange of goods and the free market, there exists something due the person given their very nature, by reason of his lofty dignity (Cfr. Centesimus Annus, 34).

"The phenomenon of consumerism, which today characterizes the way of thinking and behaviour of many people and societies, is also linked to an incorrect understanding of the economy. On numerous occasions Pope John Paul II has recalled that at the root of the destruction of the environment, and at the root of certain problems which do harm to the physical and spiritual well- being of people, there is an 'anthropological error'. 'In his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow', states the Pope, 'man consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive and disordered way' (Centesimus Annus,37, published to mark the centenary of Rerum Novarum).

"We should avoid building economic systems on the creation of false needs or on the petty exploitation of the frailty of the weak, victims of the spiritual void typical of our times.

"8. International Cooperation. In order to guarantee that economic development will spread throughout the world, international integration is needed, according to a plan of cooperation. It is therefore essential that all nations, especially the poorer nations, should effectively be able to participate actively in international trade. For this reason the Holy See appreciates the emphasis on the concept of "participation", which has become a key to interpreting the documents of this Summit.

"I wish to recall that the principle of freedom, certainly essential to economic development, goes beyond the movement of capital and resources. It also embraces human mobility which is a phenomenon of our times. People are not merely instruments of the economy. Migrant workers and their families have fundamental rights, and their work, which contributes to the economic good of the countries which receive them and to the welfare of their citizens, should always enjoy just social protection.

"The role of women has been prominent at this World Summit. Development can only be achieved when women, in equal partnership with men, are enabled to participate fully in the social and economic order, especially through their access to education. However, many obstacles must be overcome. Therefore, protecting women and children against exploitation, trafficking and harmful and cruel practices and seeking societal and economic recognition of women's unremunerated work are some of the initiatives proposed and strongly supported by the Holy See at this Summit and throughout its preparatory stages.

"9. Without Peace There Is No Development. On this occasion one cannot remain silent about the scourge of war, which in various parts of the world continues to debase the dignity of many people. Far from promoting human integration, it causes very deep and damaging wounds, wounds which will need many generations before they are healed. Recourse to arms does not bring about relations of peace and harmony between peoples. All too often today, people are cruelly and deliberately abused and their most basic needs used as pawns in armed conflict. It has been written that, in the course of the last year alone, more than 5 million people died in the world due to conflicts. Without peace the development of peoples will never come about, just as without development there will never be peace. These two factors are inseparable in the present international situation.

"10. Conclusion. Mr. President, to acknowledge that the human person is at the centre of development is also an act of confidence in the human person and in the human ability to overcome, with God's help, the forces of evil and to find the material and spiritual resources in order to respond to the challenge offered by the themes of this Summit. From the moment when the World Summit on Social Development was first announced, the Holy See has encouraged this initiative. It is now linked to all States and all men and women of good will in the task of charting a new era of cooperation for the integral development of humanity."