As world leaders gathered at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Pope Francis appeared by videoconference in an unlikely pairing with former President Bill Clinton. The side event was convened by the Clinton Foundation, to discuss how to address some of the world’s most pressing issues.
The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), held over two days on Monday and Tuesday, included topics such as climate change, the refugee crisis, and the welfare of children. Bill Clinton’s former Vice President Al Gore has been a strong advocate for the environment even since leaving office, and the former President's wife, and former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has a long-standing passion for improving children’s welfare. Other guests included U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, Barbados' Prime Minister Mia Mottley who has spoken out about the climate emergency facing poorer nations, and major business leaders and CEOs as well as A-list actors and philanthropists Orlando Bloom, Matt Damon, and Ashley Judd.
The conference returned last year after a 6-year break and aims to secure commitments from these leaders and influencers, to address major issues affecting the world such as climate but also health care, gender-based violence, and the war in Ukraine.
The Pope spoke to President Clinton, who was seated on stage beside the giant screen. He addressed a culture of ‘indifference’, and said the world is ‘living through a time of change’, saying:
"Only together can we emerge from it better together. Only together can we heal the world from the globalization of indifference."
The 86-year old pontiff urged leaders at all levels to take ownership of the problems the world is facing, and to work together on finding solutions: “We are in need of a great and shared assumption of responsibility. No challenge is too great if we meet it starting with personal conversion. The personal conversion of each of us. The personal contribution that each of us can make to solve it. And from an awareness of what it is that makes us part of one destiny.
“No challenge can be overcome alone. Not alone, only together. Sisters and brothers, children of God."
He emphasised that no-one in the audience at the event should expect the path to either peace or progress to be smooth, but encouraged them not to give up: “Difficulties can bring out the best or the worst in us. Therein lies our challenge; fighting, selfishness, narcissism, division with generosity and humility. Better unity than conflict. It is time to find the path of peace.”
The Holy Father's also used his speech to address migration emergencies around the world, pleading with those present to see the humanity in the eyes of refugee children in need of care and continuing education.