H.E. Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher | Secretary for Relations with States and International Organizations of the Holy See

On sciences for human development, peace, and planetary health – Perspectives from the Holy See

Your Eminence Cardinal Turkson,
Your Excellency Sánchez Sorondo,
Distinguished Academicians,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the outset, I wish to thank Professor Joachim von Braun for the kind invitation to offer some concluding remarks at this Plenary Session.

I would also like to join all those who acknowledged His Excellency Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo for his precious service to the Holy Father as Chancellor of both the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences. Almost 24 years of tireless service! About a quarter of a century that has seen many and significant changes in the scientific field. Thank you, dear Bishop Marcelo and best wishes for your eightieth birthday, which took place yesterday.

We have come to the end of these two intense days in which the academicians and other scientists explored the driving forces and opportunities relating to basic science for human development, peace and planetary health. You did it from different points of view: astronomy, physics, mathematics, artificial intelligence, chemistry, life and atmospheric sciences, in order to find innovative ways to reduce the threats for people and our common home as well as to improve human welfare.

In front of your technical insights, I was asked to provide the perspective of the Holy See on the topic of this Plenary session – a perspective which can only start from an ethical point of view. Indeed, Aristotle stressed that ethics is the science of acting since it compares knowledge not to pure contemplation, but to praxis and action,[1] and according to justice and conscious freedom, both of which are conditions specific to each person as a rational being. In fact, ethics must be understood as a discipline studying the rules that guide and regulate human behavior, and therefore the criteria for action, while also taking into consideration both the motivations and the short and long-term consequences of decisions to be made.

From this perspective, I would briefly like to offer some reflections on the three issues addressed by this session: human development, peace and planetary health, with the hope of giving some inputs to contribute in the advancement of basic science in the awareness that science is not neutral. Engaging in science and conducting research involve choices that are anything but indifferent to the existence of the human being and the universe.

Let us start with the first topic at hand: human development. As you know, starting from Saint Paul VI’s Encyclical Letter Populorum progressio of 1967, the Holy See adopted the concept of integral human development, which has been further explored in several documents of the papal magisterium, among which Benedict XVI’s Encyclical letter Caritas in veritate on Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth from 2009. It is a development concept that brings together various dimensions, including the spiritual. As underlined in Caritas in veritate, “the correlation between its multiple elements requires a commitment to foster the interaction of the different levels of human knowledge […T]he various disciplines have to work together through an orderly interdisciplinary exchange” (n. 30), marked by solidarity and inter-generational justice, while taking into account a variety of contexts: ecological, juridical, economic, political and cultural (n. 48). An orderly interdisciplinary exchange to be inspired by what we can call “caritas”: “an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace” (n. 1). It should also be noted here that, “charity does not exclude knowledge, but rather requires, promotes, and animates it from within. Knowledge is never purely the work of the intellect. It can certainly be reduced to calculation and experiment, but if it aspires to be wisdom capable of directing the human person in the light of his first beginnings and his final ends, it must be ‘seasoned’ with the ‘salt’ of charity. Deeds without knowledge are blind, and knowledge without love is sterile […] Human knowledge is insufficient and the conclusions of science cannot indicate by themselves the path towards integral human development. There is always a need to push further ahead: this is what is required by charity in truth. […] Intelligence and love are not in separate compartments: love is rich in intelligence and intelligence is full of love” (n. 30). Indeed, this is my first point: promoting a true integral human development needs clear interdisciplinary collaboration, which should be inspired by a strong “knowledge and charity partnership for the common good”. This is also the best way for the scientist to approach the mystery of life in wonder. This approach will help not only to unravel creation but also to continue the very work of creation with responsibility.

Oriented in this manner, integral human development, based on charity and knowledge, represents a fundamental pillar for promoting peace. Here, again, Saint Paul VI is quite clear, “Development is the new name for peace” (Populorum Progessio, n. 76). That is why the Holy See has continuously emphasized that a correct understanding of peace and security must consider elements not only of a political-military nature, but also of an ethical-moral, juridical and socio-economic nature as well. This is what we can rightly describe as integral security.[2] Such “security” is not limited to a “defense through armaments”, but must be “integral”, that is, it must take into account all the different “facets” of security, including, for example, food security, environmental security, health security, economic security, social security. Integral security is anchored in the profound interdependence in which different actors in society coexist. To summarize, my second point is that integral human development, based on charity and knowledge, is a fundamental way of promoting peace and is strongly linked with the strengthening of integral security.

The third issue to address is planetary health. Here the papal magisterium can help us, once again. In 2015 Pope Francis published the Encyclical Letter Laudato si’, where he proposed the concept of integral ecology. This is a complex and multidimensional concept, which adopts a long-term perspective. Integral ecology cannot be reduced to the environmental dimension alone and requires an integral vision of life. This vision will not only allow us to better elaborate policies, indicators, research, investment processes and evaluation criteria, but also avoid misleading concepts of development and growth, as well as the risk of reductionism. Here we have arrived at my third point, which is that the true and interconnected realization of integral human development, integral security, and integral ecology represents a fundamental challenge to basic science by encouraging those in the field to answer to the threats facing the 21st century through trans-disciplinary dialogue.

It is not an easy task, since it requires a new vision of the world based on the ancient concept that everything is interconnected and, as a result, makes the response capacity of the various scientific fields more complex. This requires real scientific reform towards what many call the pattern of sustainability. This means decreasing what pollutes and destroys and increasing everything that safeguards and regenerates while, at the same time, learning from the precious treasure of nature.

It requires a paradigm shift from the throwaway culture to the culture of care.

Here, I would also like to expand the concept of sustainability to that of integral sustainability, based on the mandate of “cultivating and caring for” our common home (cf. Gn 2,15). These are two intimately interrelated actions concerning not only the natural environment, but also all those who live within it and share it with us, both now and in the future. We cannot care for our common home without cultivating it and vice versa. This implies relationships of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature (LS, 67). For too long this sense of “mutual responsibility” has been lacking in our societies and culture. Growing in awareness of this mutual responsibility between humanity and nature is the best way to respond to Pope Francis’ hope that, “although the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities” (LS, 165).

Let us, therefore, be cognizant of the fact that we have the ability and freedom to guide, develop and limit our power. This is a major challenge for the scientific community. However, it can be tackled through responsible commitment, based on charity and knowledge, to building the complex scientific paradigm in which integral human development, integral security, integral ecology and integral sustainability interact.

Thank you.


[1] Cf. Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics.

[2] Cfr. the Contribution of the Holy See to the Tenth Session of the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, New York, 1-26 August 2022, The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons: Ethical Dimensions and Security Challenges.