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Pope gives top priority to family life in 'State of the World' address

Catholic World News - January 13, 2014

In a January 13 address to the Vatican diplomatic corps, Pope Francis cited the words of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, saying that “the language of the family is a language of peace.”

Pope Francis gave top priority to family life in his address. He also spoke of Vatican concerns about the conflict in Syria, the instability of the Middle East, threats to the religious liberty of Christians, violence in Africa, the plight of migrants, and damage to the environment.

The annual papal address to the diplomatic corps, traditionally delivered in early January, is viewed as a major outline of the Holy See’s geopolitical concerns, and sometimes characterized as the Pope’s “state of the world” address. Pope Francis was delivering the address for the first time since his election in March 2013.

After some introductory remarks, the Pope turned immediately to the question of family life, noting that “the number of broken and troubled families is on the rise” around the world. Emphasizing the critical importance of family life for societal strength, he called for “suitable policies aimed at supporting, assisting and strengthening the family.”

The Holy Father went on to observe with regret that “it also happens that the elderly are looked upon as a burden, while young people lack clear prospects for their lives.” He continued: “Yet the elderly and the young are the hope of humanity.” Recalling the enthusiasm of the young people that he had encountered at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, the Pope urged world leaders to provide opportunities for young people.

In a rundown of the world’s particular trouble spots, the Pope began with Syria. He renewed his call for a negotiated solution to the country’s conflict, and thanked those who had answered his September call for prayer and fasting for the people of Syria. He praised the neighboring countries—especially Lebanon and Jordan—that have given shelter to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

Speaking more generally about the Middle East, the Pope again quoted Benedict XVI in saying that “the moral force of law” must prevail over “the material force of arms.” He reiterated his call for a resumption of negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and expressed concern about instability in Lebanon and Iraq. He did voice some satisfaction with the progress of negotiations with Iran over the development of nuclear potential. “The exodus of Christians from the Middle East and North Africa continues to be a source of concern,” he added.

Turning to Africa, the Pope decried the violence in Nigeria and in the Central African Republic. While noting steps toward a restoration of security in Mali, he expressed dismay about the unrest in South Sudan and the growing humanitarian crisis there. “Nor can we be unmoved by the tragedies which have forced so many people to flee from famine, violence and oppression, particularly in the Horn of Africa and in the Great Lakes Region,” the Pope said.

The suffering of migrants was another major theme of the papal address. He recalled his emotional visit to the island of Lampedusa, where he mourned the migrants lost in the Mediterranean as they sought to reach Europe. The Pontiff also spoke of “the many migrants from Latin America bound for the United States.” Insisting that any offense against human dignity is a threat to world peace, the Pope decried the prevalence of a “throwaway culture” that views some human beings as expendable. “For example,” he said, “it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day.” In the same section of his talk he condemned the enlistment of children in armed forces and their exploitation in human trafficking, “which is a crime against humanity.” Finally the Pope assailed “the greedy exploitation of environmental resources.” A proper approach to the world’s resources, he said, should be based on the understanding that the world is “a gracious gift which we must care for and set at the service of our brothers and sisters, including future generations.”

Pope Francis concluded his talk by promising that the Holy See would cooperate with world leaders in every effort to promote human dignity and address human needs. The Vatican now has formal diplomatic relations with 180 countries-- as well as special representatives from the European Union, the Knights of Malta, and the Palestinian Authority—and permanent observer status at the United Nations and its affiliated organizations.

In his greeting to the ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, the Pope acknowledged the greetings that had been offered by the dean of the Vatican diplomatic corps, Ambassador Jean-Claude Michel of Monaco. He also acknowledged the passing of Alejandro Valladares Lanza, who had served for years as the Honduran ambassador to the Holy See, and was dean of the diplomatic corps until his death last year.

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