60 Years On... Passionists and Human Rights

by Kevin Dance, C.P.

On December 10, 1948, as the United Nations was just three years old, the General Assembly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was an emphatic NO to the terrible destruction of life and dignity wreaked by the Second World War. A few moral giants, like Eleanor Roosevelt and Herbert Evatt, President of the fledgling General Assembly, saw that a new map was needed if we were to have a future. The Universal Declaration is that map (www.un.org/Overview/rights.html). It reminds us that if we are to have a decent world, we need more than a successful economy. We must acknowledge the inherent God-given dignity and inalienable rights of every member of the human family. The Declaration tells us:

Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.... All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. (Art. 1)

But Jesus had already announced this from his Cross! In celebrating the anniversary of the Declaration, we are invited to take stock of our lives and our response to life. In our Catholic tradition, we have been long been called to recognize the inherent dignity of each person.

But for too many in the West, our minds have been colonized by the dominant values of individualism, consumerism and success. It is hard to escape becoming addicted to these things. From his Cross, Jesus reminds us that “success is not a name for God,” to use a phrase of Martin Buber. The antidote to this addiction is to learn to live in a spirit of solidarity as brothers and sisters. “Solidarity is the word chosen to describe a new way of being together as Passionists in mission for the life of the world. New realities call for new responses in faith.” (Passionist General Chapter, Brazil, 2000)

Paul of the Cross

Paul Danei, in another time and place, was astonished by the overwhelming love of God that is Jesus’ Passion. As for Jesus and for Paul, so for us! Our Passion for Life’ calls us to move from the center to the edge, there to find Christ—in the suffering earth, in his suffering brothers and sisters—young, old, poor, indigenous, migrant, displaced, gay, misunderstood. The outflow of our contemplation of Jesus’ Passion will always be a call to stand with the marginalized and the crucified ones who, without fully understanding it, thirst for life. Our contemplation of the Crucified One must always lead us to look to the edge and there notice who is left discarded by the way. Sometimes this will involve ‘breaking the silence.’

To be Passionist today requires that we are passionate about Life in each of its stages and all of its dimensions—a commitment to care for, to promote and protect life from womb to tomb and in every part of the biosphere. We live and serve in many places among people whose rights and dignity are daily abused. Poverty, hunger, the abomination of trafficking in persons for sex or cheap labor (which is the modern face of slavery) are just some of the sins against the human rights of our sisters and brothers that we must challenge.

Recently, the President of the 63rd Session of the General Assembly said:

President - UN
Our world is experiencing an extremely difficult period, the worst since the founding of the United Nations... the future of humankind depends on our ability and willingness to take advantage of the lessons and opportunities presented by today’s multiple and interrelated crises... the worst is the moral bankruptcy of humankind’s self-proclaimed ‘more advanced societies’, which has spread throughout the world.

From now on, solidarity must guide and direct all human activity. Morals and ethics must be given the central place they should occupy in our lives. We need to take action that is capable of ensuring the success of our efforts to eradicate poverty, guarantee genuine human security for all, take seriously our commitment to human rights and become faithful stewards of our beleagured planet. (emphasis added) --Fr. Miguel D’Escoto Brockman, November 12, 2008

Sixty years on, there is urgent need to recover the breadth of vision and moral vision to reclaim these principles that, if practiced, could renew the face of the earth. They are another version of Jesus’ call for us to love one another. End

Fr. Kevin Dance, C.P. represents Passionists International at the United
Nations.