To the United Nations on the Moral-Cultural Dimension of Development

Author: Archbishop Renato Martino


Archbishop Renato Martino

On Thursday, 28 September, Archbishop Renato R. Martino, the Holy See's Permanent Observer at the United Nations, addressed the Third Committee of the 55th Session of the General Assembly on item 103, social development, including questions relating to the world social situation and to youth, aging, disabled persons and the family. Here is the English text of his address.

Madame Chairperson,

The overview of the 2000 Report on the World Social Situation, issued by the Economic and Social Council earlier this year, highlights key global developments in terms of economic and demographic trends from a social perspective. In that Report, a number of developments are identified which are expected to have a profound influence on the shape of society in the coming years and decades, radically affecting life in many dimensions in far-reaching and fundamental ways. The Holy See commends the work of the United Nations in identifying these areas of concern, and for its commitment to the development of people everywhere.

The Holy See is pleased to note that the Report testifies to a growing awareness of human dignity and a more lively concern that human rights should be respected. The Report also points out the widespread conviction that global interdependence should be complemented by effective international solidarity. These insights, together with evidence of a genuine concern for life, peace, the family and the environment, are positive signs that the "Family of Nations" is actively involved in building a better world for all.

Despite the positive developments in economic and social spheres, however, economic and social indicators of development show the persistence and often the widening of the gap between the haves and the have-nots characterized by the unequal distribution of wealth. Responsibility for the ever widening gap between rich and poor countries lies in part with instances of omission on the part of developing nations-themselves. Moreover, developed and wealthy countries continue to furnish inadequate assistance to developing and poor ones. In too many cases, some countries ignore their duty to cooperate in the task of alleviating human misery. Instead of producing shared prosperity, this age of globalization, characterized by greater interdependence among nations, has led to an even greater disparity in wealth and increased exploitation.

In his 1999 Annual Report, Secretary-General Kofi Annan notes that globalization "creates losers as well as winners". It is clear that no country has developed successfully by rejecting the opportunities offered by international trade and foreign direct investment. At the same time, however, engagement with the global economy alone is no panacea for rapid development, and additional measures—domestic as well as international—are necessary to make globalization work for all.

The Secretary-General aptly proposed that a global compact" be established, whereby private corporations would commit themselves to observing good practices, as defined by the broader international community, in the areas of human rights, labour and the environment. Corporations have joined in this initiative because the values the compact promotes will help create the stable and secure environment that business needs if it is to flourish in the long term. Labour and civil societies have also joined this initiative because the global compact also upholds their values.

All of this points to a critical yet often underestimated aspect of development, namely that development cannot be limited to economics and politics, but must pay attention to cultural and human factors. Genuine development must be integral; it takes into account human beings in the totality of their bodily and spiritual existence, The specific nature of the person determines the true meaning of development. That is why, in the process of development, preeminent attention must be paid not to the political and economic orders, but to the moral-cultural system.

Culture almost defies definition because it is an all embracing climate rather than an articulated system. It is a social force that encompasses individuals and welds them into communities. It shapes their prejudices, ideas, values, habits, attitudes, tastes and priorities. In his Encyclical Letter Centesimus annus, Pope John Paul II points out that culture is more comprehensive than either economics or politics because it deals with the deepest questions of life. Whereas politics and economics are concerned with proximate and limited goods, culture has to do with the meaning of human existence as a whole. It inquires into what we are as human beings, and what reality is in its most comprehensive dimensions.

In this regard, the family plays a critical role. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms, the family is the natural and fundamental unit of society. Yet the family is more than a legal, social or economic unit. It is a stable community of love and solidarity uniquely suited to teaching and handing on the cultural, ethical, social and spiritual values that are essential for the development and well-being of its members and of society. It is in the family environment, therefore, that the young, the aged, and the disabled are sustained and grow in their ability to embrace the best that life has to offer.

Precisely because of the essentially moral character of development, the main obstacles to development will be overcome only by means of essentially moral decisions. The reforms called for in the system of international trade, the world monetary and financial system, and the exchange of technology between countries will aid the development process to the extent that people are viewed as the primary resource of any economy and of any society.

Madame Chairperson,

In assisting in the process of true development, the Holy See neither offers technical solutions nor proposes specific economic and political programmes. Its contribution is on another plane. The Holy See proposes a solidarity which accepts the fact of interdependence and raises it to the moral plane. All people must commit themselves to the task, if the conviction that the world has a common destiny is to have any practical effect. As Pope John Paul II has said, "collaboration in the development of the whole person and of every human being is in fact a duty of all toward all, and must be shared by the four parts of the world: East and West, North and South".

The recognition of the economic and political, as well as the cultural and spiritual factors of interdependence on a worldwide level is a first step toward such solidarity. When practiced by the influential and the wealthy, solidarity leads to a sense of responsibility toward the marginalized and the needy. It looks for ways to help them. When practised by the weak and the poor, solidarity works to overcome passivity and hopelessness. It encourages everyone to contribute, in whatever ways are possible, to the good of all, so that rich and poor alike can share the wealth which each possesses; not just wealth understood as an economic resource but wealth in its full human, cultural and spiritual sense. May God bless our common effort.

Thank you, Madame Chairperson.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
11 October 2000, page 4

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