In the wake of World War II, still reeling from the racist violence of Nazi Germany, the United Nations prepared its charter with the determined commitment to uphold human rights. The international community soon realized that the term “rights” was not sufficiently defined, and work began to develop the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Eleanor Roosevelt was chairperson of the drafting committee, which included such figures as Orthodox theologian Charles Malik, Jewish law professor René Cassin and Roman Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain. The UDHR championed the right to life (article 3), the right to leave one’s country and return (article 13) and the family as the “natural and fundamental group unit of society” (article 16).
Earlier this month, Pope Francis addressed diplomats from around the world on the upcoming 70th anniversary of the UDHR. He noted the “significant relation between the Gospel message and the recognition of human rights in the spirit of those who drafted” the declaration. He went on to acknowledge that the “interpretation of some rights has progressively changed,” often coming into conflict with each other. Abortion and euthanasia, the plight of refugees and migrants, and the risk of families becoming obsolete were all examples of modern societal conflict that Francis cited.
Our culture wants to end racism; demands equality for women; abhors discrimination and xenophobia. Thank God for that. But having increasingly removed the foundation provided by the Gospel, where will it find the solidity necessary to protect the rights of persons, and to build a better world?