I am not a religious person but thank God for the Pope – Helen Clark


A former New Zealand Prime Minister who was until recently administrator of the United Nations Development Programme believes the role of religion and faith organisations in developing and securing peace is “absolutely critical”.

The Rt Hon Helen Clark ONZ PC said this in response to a question put to her by former Labour party cabinet minster Winnie Laban, who had asked her about the role of religion in addressing the world’s problems.

“Absolutely critical and I say that as a person of no faith whatsoever, but most people aren’t like me. Most people to have some adherence to faith and so faith communities have enormous influence.”

Clark spoke particularly of the influence of Pope Francis.

“You take a faith leader like the Pope. He has influence that transcends religion. I said to someone the other day, ‘I am not a religious person but thank God for the Pope’.”

Clark said it would be obvious she did not agree with everything the Pope said. In this regard she singled out sexual and reproductive health.

“But on the basic issues of poverty, climate, justice  – this man is speaking for the hopes of so many.”

Clark said the importance of working with faith leaders on the local, national and global level is well acknowledged across agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund and UNICEF.

It is critical, she said, to have the local faith leaders involved in the issues of gender.

“In something like trying to stop female genital mutilation, cutting –  to have faith leaders come out against that [practice] and back the women in the community who are obviously trying to trying to stop it, is just critical.

“It is extremely important to bring the faith leaders with us and engage with them so that their voice can be heard on these issues,” she said.

Clark was taking part a conversation with Dr Gill Greer, at Te Papa on 29 June.

The Conversation was Broadcast on RNZ National on Sunday August 6.

Greer has been CEO of Volunteer Service Abroad since July 2012. She leaves the organisation this month.

From 2006-2011 Greer was the Director General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).

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  • Transcript taken from RNZ podcast ” Helen Clark in Conversation with Gilll Greer”
  • Image: Amritapuri
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