by Noella D'Souza
On October 2, 2017, Archbishop Bernardito Auza of the Philippines, Vatican ambassador to the United Nations, gave a speech at the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly Debate on Social Development. The Archbishop focused on the impact of global economic growth on those in poverty and the steps that can to be taken to ensure comprehensive economic and social advancement that will last in the interest of the many, especially the marginalized.
While work has been done to eradicate poverty, Archbishop Auza emphasized that there needs to be a more directed focus on alleviating socio-economic inequality. Currently, relief and assistance are aimed towards the immediate needs of those in poverty, but does not necessarily address the root cause of the inequality. However, this strategy only improves the issue temporarily. In light of this, Auza called for a “broader understanding of integral human development … to achieve lasting gains.” The causes of poverty are multifaceted, often rooted in class and social structures and access to education. To truly arrive at a productive, lasting solution to poverty, international organizations must address the sources of this issue. Auza’s specific suggestions focus more on empowering and lifting people up.
Auza recommended the “principle of subsidiarity,” a focus on community-building, and a “culture of encounter” to those trying to tackle the issue. The principle of subsidiarity is a part of Catholic social teaching which emphasizes that social institutions exist for the benefit of individuals, and that what the individual or smaller community can do for themselves, the larger community or government should encourage. Similarly, there needs to be a concerted effort to foster community and spaces for the vulnerable to counter the capitalist individualism. A culture of encounter speaks to those working with the poor. As much as possible, leaders should interact face-to-face with the poor to best address their needs.
The Archbishop noted that special attention should be paid to the most defenseless in this current global economy: the elderly, disabled, youth, and migrants. Despite their vulnerability, there should be social safety net programs in place, such as welfare and pensions, to help these people participate in and contribute to society as “a matter of basic human dignity”. Entrepreneurship should be encouraged, particularly for youth, and women, to help these people become self sufficient and to provide them with an important means of “dignified work”. The rights of migrants and refugees, namely access to healthcare and education, should be guaranteed. Doing so is a direct investment in society because these people are then able to contribute effectively to society when they grow older.
Under the overarching theme of Social Development for the UN Subcommittee, Archbishop Auza sought to redirect this conversation towards a renewed “focus on people”. In the modern economy, there is a tendency to view the gifts and abilities of the person from a strictly utilitarian perspective. Instead, the Archbishop called on the attendees to actively recognize and protect the dignity of the human person and use this as the foundation for a better global society.