By Catholic News Service     8/1/2017

UNITED NATIONS (CNS) — The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals agreed upon in 2015 are “not ends in themselves,” but a means to bring about “the true good” of the peoples of the world through care for one another and for “our common home,” Archbishop Bernardito Auza said.

Essential to implementing these goals by 2030, as the agenda calls for, is to put the human person at the center, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations said in a July 17 address.

Religious leaders must partner with one another, as well as the international community, to make sure the good of humanity is integral to these goals, Archbishop Auza said.

“We are living at a time in which many, especially in developed nations and here at the United Nations, like to bracket the most important questions, like those about who we are, where we come from, where we’re going, how we should treat each other, and what is good, true, and genuinely beautiful,” he said in an intervention delivered at a side event hosted by Religions for Peace during a U.N. high level political forum.

“While different religious traditions may answer these questions in slightly different ways, these foundational questions — and our answers to them — help the world not to forget about them and how important they are,” he said.

He noted the “enormous work” the world’s religions carry out, from alleviating poverty and feeding the hungry to providing health care and promoting the dignity of women. But the archbishop said these religions’ greatest long-term contribution to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity being realized will be to keep them focused on the human person.

“Within the specific context of the sustainable development agenda, if we lose sight of these fundamental human coordinates, there’s the serious risk that the SDGs may be understood in only partial ways, through excessively economic, environmental, or sociological lenses, while missing their deeper ethical and anthropological context and purposes,” Archbishop Auza said.

For these reasons, he continued, it is “essential for religious leaders, communities and believers to help provide, with courage and perseverance, what we could call the ‘soul’ or ‘conscience’ of the sustainable development agenda.

“In an age of epistemological and ethical relativism, we need to help people retain a notion of the true and good.”

Archbishop Auza said religious leaders “are not political leaders or social scientists, and they do not pretend to be who and what they are not.”

“They are not primarily there to measure goals and targets through scientific indicators,” he said. “They are primarily there to call and inspire people to action, and to remind them of the deeper meaning of and reasons for their action, furnishing the ‘reasons for the hope that is in them,’ as St. Peter would describe it in his First Letter.”

Religious leaders, believers and faith-based organizations are driven primarily by “a spiritual and moral mission” to “care for the flourishing of the entire human person” and strive “for authentic human development.”

“They do not compartmentalize development, but work for the integral development of each human person and of the whole human person,” Archbishop Auza said. “In a word, what they do and will keep doing to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals is the outward expression of their religious beliefs and moral principles.”

People of faith “work to protect life and the environment, to empower the weak and the oppressed,” he said. “They help populations develop their natural resources responsibly and protect them from the exploitation of powerful economic and political interests. They are creative in lifting the poor out of poverty in all its forms and breaking walls of exclusion.”

Religious people believe “peace is essential to development, Archbishop Auza said. In 1967 Blessed Paul VI affirmed that “development is the new name for peace,” he said, but studies show “countries and region sin conflict have regressed,” not progressed.

“Building peace requires pursuing development,” the archbishop said. “Without pretentions of economic and political domination, religions and faith-based organizations are generally seen as impartial brokers in this crucial form of peacebuilding.”

Pope Francis has proposed an ethics based “on what he calls an ‘integral ecology,’” in other words “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded and at the same time protecting nature,” Archbishop Auza said, quoting the pope’s encyclical “Laudato Si’.”

“The more religious leaders are able to partner with each other, the better they will be serving the peoples of the world and collaborating effectively with the international community in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda,” the archbishop said.

“Religious believers and communities must, I repeat, remain the soul or conscience of the sustainable development agenda,” he emphasized.

Archbishop Auza addressed a similar theme at a U.N. event July 14 when the world body launched a “plan of action for religious leaders and actors to prevent incitement to violence that could lead to atrocity crimes.”

At that event he said he was pleased the plan emphasized that “states have the primary responsibility to protect populations from atrocity crimes, as well as their incitement.” He noted that the plan also says that “’religious leaders and actors can’ — and I would add, do — ‘play a particularly influential role’” in preventing atrocities.

To do this, though, religion cannot be relegated to private arenas, because the public good that comes from religion needs to be appreciated and promoted,” he said, so religious leaders can denounce violence and injustice and urge respect for human life and dignity.