Former U.S. ambassador speaks human rights at SHU

Seton Hall students and faculty had the opportunity to listen to former U.S. Ambassador for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights Michael Novak speak in Jubilee Hall on Monday.

He spoke in detail about his life, which includes the publication of 44 books, his friendship with Pope Saint John Paul II, and how to go about helping the poor.

While working for the Think Tank in Washington, D.C., Novak was asked to be the U.S. Ambassador for the United Nations Commission under Ronald Reagan.

Novak often faced colleagues who represented dictatorships serving on the Commission. They
often helped other dictators stay in power, continuing the abuse of human rights in their countries. “It was just really hard, but it was worth it if you helped one person be free,” he said.

Novak said during his speech that he was an amateur on the job compared to the other countries’ ambassadors.

“The other countries all sent trained ambassadors who’d been working at this for 30-40 years and sometimes they’re at the peak of their service. So we’re much more amateurish than they are,” Novak said.

Novak added, “We had the full title of ambassador, so that’s still my favorite title, ambassador, that’s what everybody calls me at school. It’s a lifetime once you do it.”

Speaking about his relationship with Pope Saint John Paul II, Novak said their relationship all started because Novak’s book, “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism”, was translated to Polish illegally. He and the Pope both received a copy of this underground translation.

Novak accepted the Pope’s invitation to dinner one night and said that, “(The Pope) told me after dinner: I read your article this week in the Catholic Weekly and ‘you understand my thoughts pretty good.’ So he adopted me as one of his friends and I only remember being scared and almost speechless that night.”

Novak also spoke about his newest book, “Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is,” and the definition of social justice.

Novak said he believes that pouring more taxpayer money into the government to create programs for the poor is not going to help them.

On investing more money in government programs to equalizing the financial playing field, Novak said, “The world is not equal… any attempt to eliminate inequality would hurt nature more than help it. Any society that seeks equality will destroy itself and its human quality.”

John March, a first year seminarian student at Immaculate Conception, said, “I liked how Ambassador Novak gave a clear definition to social justice: the ability to form free associations and making decisions in the interest of the common good.” If March been able to ask Novak questions, he said he would have asked the ambassador to further expand on “how the virtues of a particular culture might be able to positively affect economic systems.”

Another question Carlo Santa Teresa, senior seminarian at St. Andrews would have liked to ask Ambassador Novak was how to build a community based on authentic social justice on a diverse college campus where ideas vary and priorities differ. On the subject of Novak’s speech, he said, “I found that Ambassador Novak’s explanation of social justice took the issue out of the political sphere and turned the discussion to a matter of service for all citizens.”

Alexandra Gale can be reached at

Author: Staff Writer

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