By editor - 09 May, 2014
Pope Francis will today receive the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, in an audience in the Vatican.
The UN chief is in Rome for an annual meeting of all the heads of the UN agencies.
According to Ban Ki-moon’s press spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, it is not the first meeting between the UN Secretary General and Pope Francis or his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
He told Vatican Radio that Ban Ki-moon hosted Pope Benedict in New York during his visit to the United Nations and last year he met Pope Francis at the Vatican.
Stéphane Dujarric said what makes today’s visit special is that Rome is hosting the annual meeting of all the heads of the UN agencies.
“Some fifty senior UN officials from the head of the World Bank to the World Health Organisation are meeting the Secretary General and he is bringing this whole delegation to meet Pope Francis,” Mr Dujarric said.
“So, it’s a unique occasion for the most senior leadership of the United Nations system to meet Pope Francis.”
“The visit to Pope Francis was requested because we were meeting here in Rome,” Stéphane Dujarric explained when asked how the audience came about.
“I think the Holy See and the United Nations may not agree on a number of issues on the global agenda, but I think where they do agree, where the Secretary General and the Holy Father meet, is on the fight against poverty, on the fight against inequality, against (ex)clusion, against forgetting those who are suffering.
“We communicate in different ways, we work in different ways, but I think on these issues, there is a meeting of the minds. And a meeting of the goals.”
He said at this stage in the United Nations’ agenda, they are talking about the next sustainable development goals and how to fight against poverty and against inequality.
“So I think … it’s an interesting time for the Secretary General and Pope Francis to meet,” he commented.
Ban Ki-moon’s visit to the Vatican comes on the heels of two sets of UN committee hearings in Geneva this year in which the Holy See has been asked to present its record on human rights issues.
The Vatican’s delegation presented a report on its adherence to the Convention against Torture just this week, and another in January on its respect of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Asked if there is any link between Friday’s meeting and the Geneva hearings, Stéphane Dujarric said “there’s absolutely no link.”
Earlier this week, Ban Ki-moon was in Juba, South Sudan where he appealed for peace between warring sides so that much-needed humanitarian aid can reach the suffering population and allow farmers to plant food.
A UN report last month called for $230 million in international aid, and showed that the country will face one of the most devastating famines to date “in a manner of weeks if radical action to alleviate widespread hunger isn’t taken before the planting season.”
According to Stéphane Dujarric, “What you have in South Sudan is a man-made humanitarian disaster and it is because the President Salva Kiir and the former Vice President Riek Machar have had a falling out which the term is probably too simple, but these two men who were brothers in arms for years, to fight for the independence of their country, are now fighting against each other.”
“The people are suffering and there are no issues that these two men cannot solve by sitting around the same table.”
Both Salva Kiir and Riek Machar both agreed to meet today (Friday) in Addis Ababa to start a political dialogue.
“Their problems are not insurmountable. They have to be solved. They have to be solved in order for the people to stop suffering and to be able to go home.”
However, “If there is no pause in the fighting, and what we are calling for is a thirty day pause in the fighting, so the farmers can plant. There is a very high and probable risk of wide spread famine. This is the rainy season, this is the planting season.”
“People need to feel safe so they can go home and they can plant. Already in South Sudan, almost half of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance and we are not able to reach every one of them. We are able to reach about half of them because of the ongoing fighting. It is a critical situation.”