Statement of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See
to the Organization of American States
at the Extraordinary Session on the theme Encuentro de dos mundos
Washington, D.C., 12 October 2017
May I begin by expressing my deepest condolences to the Representatives of Member States of the Caribbean region, of the United States of America, and of Mexico, for the terrible loss of life and destruction of property as a result of the recent hurricanes that hit the region and the two strong earthquakes in Mexico. I also extend anew the Holy See’s condolences to the United States following the recent tragic events in Las Vegas.
The Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to this organization is pleased to join you at this special event for the Americas to reflect on the Encounter of Two Worlds and the 1492 arrival in this Hemisphere of Christopher Columbus. The legacy of this first Encounter continues to be a subject of discussion.
One of the lessons that can be learned from the mistakes made in various places in the Encounter of two worlds is that we cannot look the other way when attacks against human dignity are occurring. Today we must not turn a blind eye, for example, to continuing abuses affecting many segments of society in the hemisphere, often the most vulnerable ones such as women and children, and some of the most marginalized and excluded, like many indigenous peoples. Last month, during his visit to Cartagena, Pope Francis called particular attention to contemporary forms of human slavery, saying: “… in so many regions of the world, millions of people are still being sold as slaves. They either beg for some expressions of humanity, moments of tenderness, or they flee by sea or land because they have lost everything, primarily their dignity and their rights.”
If we are going to eradicate this scourge, we must get to the root causes, like violent conflicts, extreme poverty, underdevelopment and exclusion, lack of education, lack of employment opportunities and environmental catastrophes. We must also attack the demand that drives modern slavery, a crass selfishness that reaches unimaginable levels of moral irresponsibility in the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation, in the sale of organs, tissues and embryos, and in so-called transplant tourism. This vile trade is exacerbated by corruption on the part of public officials and common people willing to do anything for financial gain.
At the heart of this evil, however, is the utter loss of respect for human dignity and a total indifference to the sufferings of fellow human beings. Pope Francis said that slavery develops when “people are treated as objects,” which leads to their being “deceived, raped, often sold and resold for various purposes, and in the end either killed or left devastated in mind and body, only to be finally thrown away or abandoned.” Our response must be commensurate to these great evils of our time.
As we strive today for greater justice within the Americas, we should be inspired by the lives of those heroic individuals, from both the Old World and the New, who fought courageously against such abuses. Visiting Cartagena last September 10, Pope Francis recalled the great witness given by Saint Peter Claver, a Jesuit missionary from Spain who dedicated his life to working and living with slaves brought from Africa to Colombia. He was able to restore the dignity and hope of hundreds of thousands of slaves arriving from Africa through Europe “in absolutely inhuman conditions, full of dread, with all their hopes lost.” With Peter Claver, we also remember the Spanish Dominicans Antonio de Montesinos in Santo Domingo and Bartolome de las Casas in Chiapas, who defended the indigenous populations from all forms of exploitation, including slavery and forced labor.
I wish to conclude by recalling one of the exhortations of Pope Francis, inviting the Colombian people to reconciliation and healing as indispensable elements for a lasting peace. I believe these words of the Pope are very relevant to the theme of the encounter of two worlds. The Holy Father said that the “path of reintegration into the community begins with a dialogue of two persons. Nothing can replace that healing encounter; no collective process excuses us from the challenge of meeting, clarifying, forgiving.” He added that historic wounds require justice to be done, so that victims and societies are given the chance to know the truth in order to avoid the repetition of those crimes; but, that is only the beginning of the response. What is also needed is a change in culture: “to respond to the culture of death and violence with the culture of life and encounter.” That is the culture in which two worlds can become one and flourish together.
Thank you, Madame President.