Pope's New Name for Sovereignty

Interview With UN Permanent Observer Archbishop Migliore

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By Jesús Colina



VATICAN CITY, APRIL 27, 2008 (Zenit.org).- When speaking to the United Nations, it could be said Benedict XVI proposed a new name for sovereignty, says the Holy See's permanent observer to the United Nations.

Archbishop Celestino Migliore, who hosted the Pope for three days during his stay in New York, said this in reference to the address the Holy Father gave April 18 to the U.N. General Assembly. The archbishop said the "responsibility to protect" mentioned by the Pontiff could be the new name for sovereignty, which is "not only a right, but above all a responsibility to protect and promote the populations in their daily lives."

In this interview with ZENIT, Archbishop Migliore recounts his personal experience of the papal trip, and comments on the message Benedict XVI delivered to the United Nations.

Q: What was the moment of the Pope's visit that you will never forget?

Archbishop Migliore: There are many, as you can imagine. Americans were waiting to see and experience for themselves Benedict XVI’s spirituality, intellect and humanity that they were already seeing by way of the media. Upon his arrival they saw the Pope happy to be in the United States, happy and eager to meet Americans of all levels. All the events that he participated in were marked by festivity, warmth and mutual understanding.

And then, the profound empathy of the Pope with what remains the most vivid symbol for Americans, ground zero. The ceremony, expressed almost without words, spoken heart-to-heart, made the Pope seem like one of them, and at the same time invested with such authority to communicate his own message. By the same token, on two evenings the Pope went out of the residence in New York to greet the hundreds of people convened to sing and wish him a happy birthday.

On Saturday evening there were 50 children in the first row visibly affected from various types of cancer. The affection and the sense of profound dignity expressed by the Pope revealed his highest moral authority that can offer hope and confidence.

Q: Could you tell us what the Holy Father told you?

Archbishop Migliore: I had the privilege and great pleasure of spending three days with the Holy Father in the residence of his representative at the United Nations. During the meals we shared our sentiments, impressions and exchanges of information about the unfolding of the Papal visit and the warm welcome and reception he was receiving.

On the occasion of his third anniversary of his pontificate, it was Pope Benedict who offered us a wonderful gift: He wished to have all my collaborators at the table for dinner. This was the highlight for all of us who had an opportunity to share with the Holy Father the joys and burdens, as well as the funny moments of our activity at the United Nations.

Q: Do you have any reactions from the national delegations in the United Nations to the Pope's speech?

Archbishop Migliore: This is a time of difficulty and tension also for the United Nations. The Pope uplifted spirits. Knowing that the United Nations is not a bed of roses even for the Pope, I had the impression that many diplomats who heard him stress the most beautiful potential of the United Nations, felt comforted and encouraged to work for a United Nations which delivers.

No doubt it was the meeting with the staff that accounted for the most enthusiastic response throughout the United Nations. At many points in his address the Pope smiled and looked at the crowd. His warmth and comfort was echoed by the crowd’s response, in its excitement and cheers, and in the standing ovations they gave him. This festive reaction by the staff was not just stadium frenzy, but it was motivated also by the message he delivered to them.

Q: The Pope said he and the Church believe in the United Nations, and urged the institution to go back to the original principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. How was his message received by members of the United Nations?

Archbishop Migliore: In particular, they had the impression that the Pope was reading their heart, their personal desire for justice and freedom. From what I hear from diplomats and officials at the United Nations, the words of the Pope will have an echo and a profound and studied following, especially with regard to the role of the United Nations and international law.

Q: How is the "responsibility to protect," mentioned by the Holy Father, a new principle for the international community? How would this differ from the international community's response to oppressive governments in the past?

Archbishop Migliore: He stated that the moral basis for a government’s claim to authority, to sovereignty, is its responsibility for, its willingness to, and effectiveness in protecting its populations from any kind of violation of human rights. While borrowing this expression from the Outcome Document adopted by Heads of State and Government in 2005, Pope Benedict outlined a broader concept: Responsibility to protect covers not only the so-called humanitarian -- military -- interventions, rather, it could be used as the new name for sovereignty, which is not only a right, but above all a responsibility to protect and promote the populations in their daily lives.