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Plea for peace in Syria headlines Pope's 'State of the World' address

Catholic World News - January 07, 2013

In an address to the Vatican diplomatic corps—the Pontiff’s annual “State of the World” address—Pope Benedict XVI renewed his urgent call for a ceasefire in Syria, and said that in their responses to the world’s financial crisis, leaders should be mindful of “increasing differences between those few who grow ever richer and the many who grow hopelessly poorer.”

Each January the Roman Pontiff delivers an address to the ambassadors accredited to the Holy See. Following the traditional protocol, the Pope spoke in the Sala Regia of the apostolic palace. Before his remarks, he was greeted by Ambassador Alejandro Emilio Valladares Lanza of Honduras, the dean of the Vatican diplomatic corps; and by Ambassador Jean-Claude Michel of Monaco, the vice-dean.

After reviewing the Holy See’s diplomatic activities of the past year—which included the signing of new agreements with Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, and Montenegro—the Holy Father argued forcefully for a commitment to truth and justice in international affairs. He argued that a “pragmatic” approach to diplomacy, based on a refusal to acknowledge clear moral norms, fails by its own standards:

To know the truth seems impossible, and efforts to affirm it appear often to lead to violence. On the other hand, according to a now widespread way of thinking, peacemaking consists solely in the pursuit of compromises capable of ensuring peaceful coexistence between different peoples or between citizens within a single nation. Yet from the Christian point of view, the glorification of God and human peace on earth are closely linked, with the result that peace is not simply the fruit of human effort, but a participation in the very love of God. It is precisely man’s forgetfulness of God, and his failure to give him glory, which gives rise to violence.

In fact, the Pope argued, “without openness to the transcendent, human beings easily become prey to relativism and find it difficult to act justly and to work for peace.”

Pope Benedict decried the “baneful religious fanaticism” that gave rise to violence in many parts of the world in 2012, repeating his oft-expressed insistence that the exploitation of religious beliefs to justify violence is a “falsification of religion itself.”

In a tour of the world’s troubled regions, the Pope spoke “first and foremost of Syria, torn apart by endless slaughter and the scene of dreadful suffering among its civilian population.” He pleaded for negotiations to end “a conflict which will know no victors but only vanquished if it continues, leaving behind it nothing but a field of ruins.”

Next the Pope spoke of the Holy Land, expressing his hope that Israeli and Palestinian leaders “will commit themselves to peaceful coexistence within the framework of two sovereign states.” He offered a prayer that Jerusalem could once again become “a city of peace and not of division.”

The Pope also mentioned his hopes for stable peace in Iraq, Lebanon, and northern Africa—mentioning Egypt especially—and in the Horn of Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Mali, and the Central African Republic.

Turning next to Europe, the Pope praised a resolution passed by the Council of Europe to bar euthanasia, but expressed dismay “that in various countries, even those of Christian tradition, efforts are being made to introduce or expand legislation which decriminalizes abortion.”

Speaking more generally about prevailing political trends in the West, the Pope criticized a popular conception of human rights:

Rights are often confused with exaggerated manifestations of the autonomy of the individual, who becomes self-referential, no longer open to encounter with God and with others, and absorbed only in seeking to satisfy his or her own needs. To be authentic, the defense of rights must instead consider human beings integrally, in their personal and communitarian dimensions.

The world’s financial crisis has illustrated the danger of policies that ignore the needs of the common good, the Pope said. “The crisis developed because profit was all too often made absolute, to the detriment of labor, and because of unrestrained ventures in the financial areas of the economy, rather than attending to the real economy.” He called for a rediscovery of the value of hard work and honest profit, and said that people should be taught “how to resist the temptations of particular and short-term interests, and to look instead to the common good.”

Pope Benedict reminded the diplomats that “peace in society is also put at risk by certain threats to religious liberty.” He lamented that in many countries, intolerance of religion appears to be rising, along with the determination of secularists to exclude all religious expression from public discussions.

Respectful treatment of religious differences can help to strengthen peace in society, the Pope said. He pointed to the historic agreement signed in 2012 by the Catholic bishops of Poland and the Russian Orthodox Church as a “strong signal” of improvement in relations between those two countries. Similarly, the Pope praised an agreement in the Philippines, calling for inter-religious dialogue in the Mindanao province, where Islamic activists have sought greater political autonomy.

The Pope closed his address by saying that the quest for peace cannot be effective unless it is marked by charity. “Charity cannot take the place of justice that has been denied,” he said; “nor can justice, on the other hand, replace charity that has been refused.”

In notes introducing the Pope’s speech, the Vatican press office observed that the Holy See currently has full diplomatic relations with 179 nations, as well as with the European Union and the Knights of Malta. The Vatican also has special diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and observer status at the UN and its affiliated organizations.

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