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Pope stresses environment in 'state of the world' address

Catholic World News - January 11, 2010

In his annual address to the Vatican diplomatic corps—informally known as his “State of the World” address—Pope Benedict XVI laid heavy stress on care for the environment. In doing so, the Holy Father emphasized that proper stewardship for creation entails an appreciation for natural law and an understanding of the innate dignity of human life.

“If we wish to build true peace, how can we separate or even set at odds the protection of the environment and the protection of human life, including the life of the unborn?” the Pope asked the ambassadors accredited to the Holy See. “It is in man's respect for himself that his sense of responsibility for creation is shown.”

At the start of his address the Pope reminded his audience that he had chosen the same theme—care for the environment—as the focus of his message for the World Day of Peace. He pointed out that in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate he had argued that the current crisis of the global economy can be traced to “a current self-centered and materialistic way of thinking which fails to acknowledge the limitations inherent in every creature.” The same unhealthy attitude, he argued, is at the root of problems that threaten the environment.

Pope Benedict illustrated his point by referring to the collapse of the Communist regimes in eastern Europe. When those atheistic and materialistic regimes fell, he said, it was “easy to see the great harm which an economic system lacking any reference to the truth about man had done not only to the dignity and freedom of individuals and peoples, but to nature itself, by polluting soil, water and air.”

"The denial of God distorts the freedom of the human person, yet it also devastates creation,” the Pope said. He concluded, therefore, that concern for the environment is not merely a question of personal preference—not a response to an “aesthetic need”—but actually a moral obligation, reflecting the reality that God placed man as steward over creation.

The Pope expressed keen concern about the “economic and political resistance” to policies that would provide effective protection for the environment. Citing the failure of the Copenhagen summit in December to approve strong policies, he voiced his hope that the resistance will be overcome in future months, and “it will be possible to reach an agreement for effectively dealing with this question.”

However, the Pope repeated that concern for the environment must include concern for the health of humans and of family life. He decried the violent conflicts for control of precious natural resources, especially in Africa, and the heavy influence of drug trafficking, particularly in Latin America. He also condemned the arms trafficking that helps to fuel violence in countries such as Sudan, Somalia, and the Congo. Continuing his survey of the world’s trouble spots, the Pope spoke next about the continuing conflicts in the Middle East. He mentioned in particular the suffering of Christians in that region, who are often deprived of the freedom to practice their faith; he mourned the fact that many Christians are “leaving the land of their forebears, where the Church took root during the earliest centuries.” He reminded the diplomats that he had called a special Synod for the Middle East to address these concerns.

Recalling his own pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the Pontiff renewed his plea for Israel and Palestine to reach a negotiated end to their conflict. He called for “universal recognition of the right of the State of Israel to exist,” and for similar recognition of “the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign and independent homeland.”

In the Western world, Pope Benedict said, hostility to the faith takes the form of ideological secularism. He observed: “It is clear that if relativism is considered an essential element of democracy, one risks understanding secularity solely in terms of excluding or, more precisely, denying the social importance of religion.” That misguided approach “harms human ecology,” he said, by preventing discussion of spiritual matters that are essential to human welfare.

The Pope spoke to the diplomats in the Sala Regia of the apostolic palace, in an annual January meeting. The dean of the diplomatic corps at the Holy See, Ambassador Alejandro Valladares Lanza of Honduras, greeted the Pontiff on behalf of the assembled ambassadors.

There are now 178 countries that maintain full diplomatic relations with the Holy See, with Russia—which had previously had a special representative at the Vatican—the most recent addition to the list. The diplomatic corps also includes representatives of the European Union, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Knights of Malta.

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