Yesterday Pope Benedict gave his annual address to members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See.
The Vatican currently maintains diplomatic relations with 177 States, to which must be added the European Union and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. It also has two missions of a special nature: the mission of the Russian Federation and the office of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
At the beginning of his address, the Holy Father mentioned "all those who have suffered - whether as a result of grave natural catastrophes, particularly in Vietnam, Myanmar, China and the Philippines, in Central America and the Caribbean, and in Columbia and Brazil; or as a result of violent national or regional conflicts; or again as a result of terrorist attacks which have sown death and destruction in countries like Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Algeria".
After highlighting how "despite so many efforts the peace we so desire still remains distant", Benedict XVI stressed the importance of "redoubling our efforts on behalf of security and development. In this regard, the Holy See wished to be among the first to sign and ratify the 'Convention on Cluster Munitions'", he said, while faced with "the signs of crisis appearing in the area of disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation, the Holy See has continued to reaffirm that peace cannot be built when military expenses divert enormous human and material resources from projects for development, especially the development of the poorest peoples".
Commenting on this year's Message for the World Day of Peace, which had as its theme "Fighting Poverty To Build Peace", the Pope pointed out that "to build peace, we need to give new hope to the poor". In this context he also mentioned the "many individuals and families hard-pressed by the difficulties and uncertainties which the current financial and economic crisis has provoked on a global scale" as well as "the food crisis and global warming, which make it even more difficult for those living in some of the poorest parts of the planet to have access to nutrition and water.
"There is", he added, "an urgent need to adopt an effective strategy to fight hunger and to promote local agricultural development, all the more so since the number of the poor is increasing even within rich countries. ... On a deeper level, bolstering the economy demands rebuilding confidence. This goal will only be reached by implementing an ethics based on the innate dignity of the human person. I know how demanding this will be, yet it is not a utopia! Today more than in the past, our future is at stake, as well as the fate of our planet and its inhabitants, especially the younger generation which is inheriting a severely compromised economic system and social fabric".
On the subject of his apostolic journeys of last year, the Holy Father referred to his address at the headquarters of the United Nations Organisation: "Sixty years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I wished to stress that this document is founded on the dignity of the human person, which in turn is based on our shared human nature, which transcends our different cultures". Visiting Lourdes, France, "I sought to emphasise that the message of conversion and love which radiates from the grotto of Massabielle remains most timely, as a constant invitation to build our own lives and the relations between the world's peoples on the foundation of authentic respect and fraternity, in the awareness that this fraternity presupposes that all men and women have a common Father, God the Creator. Moreover, a society which is 'secular' in a healthy way does not ignore the spiritual dimension and its values, since religion - and I thought it helpful to repeat this during my pastoral visit to France - is not an obstacle but rather a solid foundation for the building of a more just and free society.
"Acts of discrimination and the very grave attacks directed at thousands of Christians in this past year", he added, "show to what extent it is not merely material poverty, but also moral poverty, which damages peace. Such abuses, in fact, are rooted in moral poverty".
"Christianity is a religion of freedom and peace", said the Pope, "and it stands at the service of the true good of humanity. To our brothers and sisters who are victims of violence, especially in Iraq and in India, I renew the assurance of my paternal affection; to the civil and political authorities, I urgently request that they be actively committed to ending intolerance and acts of harassment directed against Christians, to repairing the damage which has been done, particularly to the places of worship and properties; and to encouraging by every means possible due respect for all religions, outlawing all forms of hatred and contempt. I also express my hope that, in the Western world, prejudice or hostility against Christians will not be cultivated simply because, on certain questions, their voice causes disquiet".
He encouraged the faithful not to lose heart "in the face of such adversity" because "if the trials and tribulations are painful, the constant presence of Christ is a powerful source of strength. Christ's Gospel is a saving message meant for all; that is why it cannot be confined to the private sphere, but must be proclaimed from the rooftops, to the ends of the earth".
Going on then to refer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Holy Father insisted that "military options are no solution and that violence, wherever it comes from and whatever form it takes, must be firmly condemned. I express my hope that, with the decisive commitment of the international community, the cease-fire in the Gaza strip will be re-established - an indispensable condition for restoring acceptable living conditions to the population - and that negotiations for peace will resume, with the rejection of hatred, acts of provocation and the use of arms.
"It is very important that, in view of the crucial elections which will involve many of the inhabitants of the region in coming months, leaders will emerge who can decisively carry forward this process and guide their people towards the difficult yet indispensable reconciliation. This cannot be reached without the adoption of a global approach to the problems of these countries, with respect for the legitimate aspirations and interests of all parties".
The Pope also indicated that "wholehearted support must be given to dialogue between Israel and Syria and, in Lebanon, to the current strengthening of institutions; this will be all the more effective if it is carried out in a spirit of unity. To the Iraqis, who are preparing again to take full control of their future, I offer a particular word of encouragement to turn the page and to look forward in order to rebuild without discrimination on the basis of race, ethnic group or religion. As far as Iran is concerned, tireless efforts must be made to seek a negotiated solution to the controversy concerning the nation's nuclear programme, through a mechanism capable of satisfying the legitimate demands of the country and of the international community. This would greatly favour detente in the region and in the world".
Turning his attention to Asia, the Holy Father noted that although "in certain countries acts of violence continue", and "in others the political situation remains tense, some progress has been made enabling us to look to the future with greater confidence". Such progress includes, he said, "the new negotiations for peace in Mindanao, in the Philippines, and the new direction being taken in relations between Beijing and Taipei.
"In this same context of the quest for peace, a definitive solution of the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka would also have to be political, since the humanitarian needs of the peoples concerned must continue to receive attention. The Christian communities living in Asia are often numerically small, yet they wish to contribute in a convincing and effective way to the common good, stability and progress of their countries, as they bear witness to the primacy of God which sets up a healthy order of values and grants a freedom more powerful than acts of injustice. ... The Church, as has often been said, does not demand privileges, but the full application of the principle of religious freedom. In this perspective, it is important that, in central Asia, legislation concerning religious communities guarantee the full exercise of this fundamental right, in respect for international norms".
The Pope, who is due to visit Africa within the next few months, called upon the inhabitants of that continent "to welcome the Gospel and to live it consistently, building peace by fighting moral and material poverty. A very particular concern must be shown for children: twenty years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, they remain very vulnerable. Many children have the tragic experience of being refugees and displaced persons in Somalia, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are waves of migration involving millions of persons in need of humanitarian assistance and who above all have been deprived of their elementary rights and offended in their dignity.
"I ask political leaders on the national and international levels to take every measure necessary to resolve the current conflicts and to put an end to the injustices which caused them. I express my hope that in Somalia the restoration of the State will finally make progress, in order to end the interminable sufferings of the inhabitants of that country. In Zimbabwe, likewise, the situation remains critical and considerable humanitarian assistance is needed. The peace agreement in Burundi has brought a glimmer of hope to the region. I ask that it be applied fully, and thus become a source of inspiration for other countries which have not yet found the path of reconciliation". In this context he also mentioned the Holy See's "special attention" for Africa and its pleasure at having established diplomatic relations with Botswana last year.
On the subject of Latin America, the Pope indicated that "the needs of emigrants need to be taken into consideration by legislation which would make it easier to reunite families, reconciling the legitimate requirements of security with those of inviolable respect for the person". He praised "the overriding commitment shown by some governments towards re-establishing the rule of law and waging an uncompromising battle against the drug trade and political corruption", and expressed his pleasure that, "thirty years after the start of the papal mediation between Argentina and Chile concerning their dispute over the southern territories, those two countries have in some way sealed their desire for peace by raising a monument to ... Pope John Paul II". Benedict XVI also mentioned the recent agreement between the Holy See and Brazil, expressing the hope that it "will facilitate the free exercise of the Church's mission of evangelisation and further strengthen her co-operation with the civil institutions for integral human development".
He went on: "For five centuries the Church has accompanied the peoples of Latin America, sharing their hopes and their concerns. Her Pastors know that, to favour the authentic progress of society, their proper task is to enlighten consciences and to form lay men and women capable of engaging responsibly in temporal affairs, at the service of the common good".
Lastly, the Pope turned his attention to "nations which are nearer at hand". He greeted the Christian community of Turkey for the occasion of the current Year of St. Paul, during which "numerous pilgrims are making their way to Tarsus, his native city, a fact which once more indicates how closely this land is linked to the origins of Christianity". Pope Benedict continued: " The hope of peace is alive in Cyprus, where negotiations for a just solution to problems associated with the division of the island have resumed. As for the Caucasus, I wish to affirm once more that the conflicts involving the States of the region cannot be settled by recourse to arms; and, in thinking of Georgia, I express my hope that all the commitments subscribed to in the cease-fire of last August - an agreement concluded thanks to the diplomatic efforts of the European Union - will be honoured, and that the return of the displaced to their homes will be provided for as quickly as possible".
In south-east Europe "the Holy See pursues its commitment to stability, ... and hopes that conditions will continue to be created for a future of reconciliation and of peace between the populations of Serbia and Kosovo, with respect for minorities and commitment to the preservation of the priceless Christian artistic and cultural patrimony which constitutes a treasure for all humanity", he said.
The Pope concluded his remarks to the diplomatic corps by quoting from his Message for this year's World Day of Peace: "The poorest human beings are unborn children. But I cannot not fail to mention, in conclusion, others who are poor, like the infirm, the elderly left to themselves, broken families and those lacking points of reference. Poverty is fought if humanity becomes more fraternal as a result of shared values and ideals, founded on the dignity of the person, on freedom joined to responsibility, on the effective recognition of the place of God in the life of man".
Yesterday Pope Benedict gave his annual address to members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See.