Human Rights Must Be at Center, Do Not Fear Going Against the Grain

by Pope Francis

Descriptive Title

Pope Francis Message to International Conference 2018


“Human rights must be at the center of all policies,” Pope Francis demands, “even when it means going against the grain.” The Holy Father communicated this in a message to participants in the International Conference entitled “Human Rights in the Contemporary World: Achievements, Omissions and Negations,” which began Monday, Dec. 10, 2018, at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Publisher & Date

Vatican, December 10, 2018

Lord Cardinal,

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I’m happy to send my warn greeting to all of you, representatives of the States to the Holy See, of the United Nations Institutions, of the Council of Europe, of the Episcopal Commissions of Justice and Peace, and of those for social pastoral care, the academic world and organizations of the civil society, gathered in Rome for the International Conference on the theme “Human Rights in the Contemporary World: Achievements, Omissions, Negations,” organized by the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development and by the Pontifical Gregorian University, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man and on the 25th anniversary of the Declaration and of the Program of Action of Vienna.

Through these two documents, the Family of Nations wished to acknowledge the equal dignity of every human person,[1]from which fundamental rights and freedoms derive that, in as much as rooted in the nature of the human person — inseparable unity of body and soul — are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interconnected.[2] Recognized at the same time in the Declaration of 1948 is that “every individual has duties towards the community, in which the free and full development of his personality is only possible.”[3]

In the year in which the significant anniversaries are celebrated of these international juridical instruments, an in-depth reflection seems opportune on the foundation and the respect of the rights of man in the contemporary world, a reflection that I hope will be harbinger of a renewed commitment in favour of the defense of human dignity, with special attention to the most vulnerable members of the community.

In fact, observing carefully our contemporary societies, numerous contradictions are found that induce us to ask ourselves if the equal dignity of all human beings, solemnly proclaimed 70 years ago, is truly recognized, respected, protected and promoted in every circumstance. Numerous forms of injustice persist today in the world, fueled by reductive anthropological vision and by an economic model founded on profit, which doesn’t hesitate to exploit, to reject and even to kill man.[4] While a part of humanity lives in opulence, another part sees its dignity unknown, scorned and trampled and its fundamental rights ignored and violated.

I think, among other things, of the unborn who are denied the right to come to the world; of those that don’t have access to the indispensable means for a fitting life;[5] of all those that are excluded from an adequate education, and who are unjustly deprived of work or constrained to work as slaves; of those that are detained in inhuman conditions, who suffer torture or to whom the possibility is denied of being redeemed;[6] of the victims of forced disappearances and of their families.

My thought also goes to all those that live in an atmosphere dominated by suspicion and contempt, who are the object of acts of intolerance, discrimination and violence by reason of their racial, ethnic, national or religious belonging.[7]

Finally, I cannot but remember all those that suffer multiple violations of their fundamental rights, in the tragic context of armed conflicts, while unscrupulous merchants of death [8] enrich themselves at the price of the blood of their brothers and sisters.

In face of these grave phenomena, we are all called into question. In fact, when fundamental rights are violated, or when some are privileged at the expense of others, or when they are only guaranteed to specific groups, then grave injustices are verified, which in turn fuel conflicts with heavy consequences, be it within individual Nations, be it in the relations between them.

Therefore, each one is called to contribute with courage and determination, in the specificity of one’s own role, to respect the fundamental rights of every person, especially the “invisible” ones, of so many that hunger and thirst, are naked, sick, strangers or detained (Cf. Matthew 25:35-36), who live on the margins of society and are rejected.

This exigency of justice and solidarity has special significance for us Christians, because the Gospel itself invites us to turn our gaze to the littlest of our brothers and sisters, to be moved to compassion (Cf. Matthew 14:14) and to commit ourselves concretely to alleviate their sufferings.

On this occasion, I wish to make a heartfelt appeal to all those that have institutional responsibilities, asking them to put human rights at the center of all policies, including those of cooperation for development, even when that means going against the current.

With the hope that these days of reflection may reawaken consciences and inspire initiatives geared to protect and promote human dignity, I entrust each one of you, your families and your peoples to the intercession of Mary Most Holy, Queen of Peace, and I invoke upon all an abundance of divine blessings.

From the Vatican, December 10, 2018


[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]


[1] Cf. Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, December 10, 1948, Preamble and Article 1.

[2] Cf. Declaration of Vienna, June 25, 1993, n. 5.

[3] Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, article 29.1.

[4] Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 53.

[5] Cf. John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris, April 11, 1963, 6.

[6] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2267.

[7] Cf. Address to the Participants in the World Conference on the theme “Xenophobia, Racism and Populist Nationalism, in the Context of Global Migrations,” September 20, 2018.

[8] Cf. General Audience, St. Peter’s Square, June 11, 2014.

© Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2018

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