Throughout his pontificate Pope Francis has cited the moral authority of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In recent weeks he has repeatedly noted the document’s 70th anniversary and its continuing relevance in world affairs.

In his annual New Year address to members of the diplomatic corps, the Holy Father noted that sound law is necessary for peace. It is, he said on Jan. 7, “the essential instrument for achieving social justice and nurturing fraternal bonds between peoples.”

In this context, he added, “a fundamental role is played by the human rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose 70th anniversary we recently celebrated.”

Without a clear statement of the “universal objective and rational nature” of human rights,” he continued, “partial and subjective visions of humanity” would prevail, “leading to new forms of inequality, injustice, discrimination and, in extreme cases, also new forms of violence and oppression.”

In his Jan. 1 message for the World Day of Peace, the Holy Father emphasized that rights always come with duties. He cited St. Pope John XXIII’s 1963 statement about the declaration: 

“Man’s awareness of his rights must inevitably lead him to the recognition of his duties. The possession of rights involves the duty of implementing those rights, for they are the expression of a man’s personal dignity. And the possession of rights also involves their recognition and respect by others.”


Mike Aquilina is a contributing editor to Angelus News. He is the author of many books, including “A History of the Church in 100 Objects” and “Yours Is the Church.”

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