Pope John Paul II appeared before the U.N. General Assembly today with a solemn plea for global disarmament, human rights and a peaceful resolution to the conflicts that still plague the Middle East and other corners of the earth.
Evoking the memory of the Auschwitz death camp as an eternal reminder of government inhumanity, the pontiff called for an end to the subordination of human rights to the political interests of nations. "All human beings in every nation and country," he said, "should be able to enjoy effectively their full rights under any political regime or system."
The pope, who said he was addressing "every man and every woman, without any exception whatever" through their General Assembly delegates, called the stifling of human rights one of two grave injustices that most threaten the modern world. The other, he said, is the unequal distribution of material goods.
He deplored the "frightful disparities" between the few excessively rich and the majority of nations and people who are destitute.
"Everything will depend on whether these differences and contrasts in the sphere of the 'possession' of goods will be systematically reduced through truly effective means, on whether the belts of hunger, malnutrition, destitution, underdevelopment, disease and illiteracy will disappear from the economic map of the earth . . . ," the pope said.
The pontiff dealt in more detail with disarmament and the Middle East than with any other international issues. On the Middle East, he reiterated Pope Paul VI's call for a special status for Jerusalem under international guarantees. Israel, which controls Jerusalem, has rejected such a concept.
He said the Middle East peace must be based "on equitable recognition of the rights of all [and] cannot fail to include the consideration and just settlement of the Palestinian question." He also called for restoration of peace in Lebanon.
Then, in what many interpreted as an endorsement of SALT II, he denounced the "unbridled" arms race, making no distinction among the nuclear powers but declaring that "the life of humanity today is seriously endangered by the threat of destruction and by the risk arising from accepting certain 'tranquilizing reports'" -- an apparent reference to assurances that nuclear weapons will not be used and arguments against the necessity for disarmament.
The pope's five hours at the United Nations were in sharp contrast to his previous days in Ireland and Boston, where he defined his mission as pastoral. Instead of the jubilation and celebration that marked his meetings with largely Catholic crowds on the first days of his trip, the United Nations provided a less-festive non-religious forum for him to deliver what he said in advance would be a major message.
Still, everywhere he went in the U.N. complex, the pope was greeted with applause and efforts to touch his hand. Dressed in white, the pope often reached out to grasp one of the hands extended toward him and constantly waved to the clusters of employes, delegates and guests who stood to applaud him.
As he entered the General Assembly chamber to deliver his speech, he embraced two young children who presented him with flowers. The pope shortened his speech considerably, omitting several sections of the prepared text, but still he spoke for about 70 minutes in slow and sometimes halting English.
The 59-year-old pope was given prolonged applause by the delegates who stood to honor him. As they applauded, he prayed. With his eyes closed and head down, the pope remained motionless for half a minute in his chair next to the rostrum. Then he rose and acknowledged the applause.
The United Nations has proclaimed 1979 the year of the child, and the pope, who instinctively reaches out for children when he sees them in crowds, asked the representatives of the 152 U.N. member nations: "Are the children to receive the arms race from us as a necessary inheritance?"
His voice fell almost to a whisper in the silent hall as he recalled his visit to the Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz last June. The memory of Auschwitz, he said, should be a warning to humanity "in order that every kind of concentration camp anywhere on earth may once and for all be done away with. I would be untrue to the history of this century, I would be dishonest with regard to the great cause of man, which we all wish to serve, if I should keep silent."
Outside the United Nations, the pope's journey through New York changed dramatically from morning to afternoon.His arrival at La Guardia Airport from Boston at 9 a.m. drew a relatively small crowd of dignitaries and citizens. As the pope rode through Queens on the way to the East Side of Manhattan the streets were lined with people, but not nearly as many as came to see him in midtown Manhattan later in the day.
New Yorkers gathered by the hundreds of thousands along the route the pontiff took as he left the U.M. headquarters for a lunch with Monsignor Giovanni Cheli, the Vatican's observer to the United Nations, some 30 blocks away. And late in the afternoon, on his first visit to St. Patrick's Cathedral, the throngs awaiting John Paul were even denser and more enthusiastic.
The faithful and the curious, the chic and the eccentric, office workers, laborers and shop girls jogged along the police lines looking for some opening where they might see the papal motorcade or glimpse him walking up the steps of the cathedral. At some points the crowd backed up hundreds of people deep along side streets trying to view him. Many stood silently, a few wept in anticipation.
When, at about 5 p.m., John Paul arrived at the cathedral, gold and white balloons were released into the air and carried aloft as the crowd's roar swelled. He stood before the great bronze doors of the cathedral looking at the multitude gathered before him.
Women and children were raised on shoulders so they could see even as far as a barricade, sometimes having to peer over hundreds of other heads. A policeman held a small girl aloft in the communications van.
Many in the crowd offered a single answer as to why they would wait for hours to see the pope. Three teen-age girls from Long Island, asked that question, answered almost in unison "he's the leader of our religion. This is the chance of a lifetime."
Harriet Heisey, a housewife from Portland, Ore. whose family vacation in New York coincided with the papal visit, could not believe what she was seeing as she stood in the middle of Fifth Avenue in the crowd.
"There's more people here than there are in the whole city of Portland. I have never been in such a mess of people."
Surrounded by skyscrapers, the pope glanced first at the sky, then raised his hands to thousands more people pressing against the windows of Rockefeller Center and the other nearby towers of New York. He then briefly applauded the crowd, sending new waves of excitement through it before entering the cathedral and praying with Cardinal Terence Cook.
The warmth of the welcome from the crowd appeared to give new energy to the pope, who a few minutes earlier had seemed to sag with fatigue as he shook hands with a long line of U.N. diplomats and their spouses after his address there.
The pope told the congregation at the cathedral, which included employes of the New York Archdiocese, that he was there "to confirm you in your holy, Catholic and apostolic faith; to invoke upon you the joy and strength that will sustain you in Christian living."
Extending greetings to "all the people of New York," he added: "In a special way my heart is with the poor and with those who suffer, with those who are alone and abandoned . . . "
After the pope pronounced the benediction for the short service in Latin, Cardinal Cooke introduced him to some of the ecumenical guests, including Greek Orthodox Archbishop Iakovos and Episcopal Bishop Paul Moore.
As they had done when he entered, the congregation members stood and applauded him as Cooke escorted him down the aisle of the ornate 100-year-old cathedral. Outside on the sidewalk, the pope paused, as he has done so often, to greet and embrace a child in the crowd.
As the light faded in the city streets, the papal motorcade left the heart of Manhattan for Harlem, the South Bronx slums and a triumphant mass at Yankee Stadium.