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Pope Benedict's 'State of the World' address January 08, 0200

In this annual address to the Vatican diplomatic corps-- an address that functions as a papal "State of the World" speech-- Pope Benedict XVI returned to the theme of his message for the World Day of Peace, saying that world poverty is a threat to peace and security.

"To build peace, we need to give new hope to the poor," the Holy Father told the assembled envoys. In a speech that included a quick glance at the past year and a tour of the world's trouble spots, the Pope also took time to decry anti-Christian violence and the tendency of some modern secular states to resist any public manifestation of religious faith. In his comments on current crises the Pope laid particular stress on the need for a quick end to the fighting in Gaza.

The full text of the Pope's January 8 speech is available on the Vatican web site.

At the meeting, which took place in the Sala Regia of the apostolic palace, the Pope was greeted by Alejandro Valladares Lanza, the ambassador from Honduras, who was speaking in his capacity as dean of the Vatican diplomatic corps. That group consists of the ambassadors representing the 177 nations with which the Holy See has formal diplomatic ties, plus special representatives from the European Union, the Russian Federation, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Knights of Malta.

Pope Benedict began his address by acknowledging the greetings extended by the Honduran envoy and extending his own best wishes to all the diplomats in his audience. "For everyone I ask God to grant the gift of a year rich in justice, serenity and peace," he said.

The Pontiff opened his survey of the past year with a word of sympathy for "all those who have suffered" from natural disasters (he specifically mentioned Vietnam, Myanmar, China, the Philippines, the Central American and Caribbean nations, Colombia, and Brazil) or from terrorist attacks (Afghanista, India, Pakistan, and Algeria). He reminded the ambassadors of some international initiatives that had won the enthusiastic support of the Holy See, including the ban on cluster munitions and other disarmament efforts.

Turning then to the link between poverty and insecurity, the Pope said that there is "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." He expressed satisfaction with recent Doha Conference, which "identified some helpful criteria for directing the governance of the economic system and helping those who are most in need."

Fighting poverty means restoring confidence in the future, the Pope observed, and to build the future "we must invest first and foremost in the young." He mentioned his own efforts to reach out to young people during the past year, particularly during his trip to Australia for World Youth Day.

In other apostolic trips of 2008, to the US and especially to France, the Pope said that he had intended to focus on the challenges of secularism. A healthy secular society, he said "does not ignore the spiritual dimension," but recognizes that religion is "not an obstacle but rather a solid foundation for the building of a more just and free society."

While secularists are hostile to religion, the Pope noted that in some countries "discrimination and the very grave attacks directed at thousands of Christians in this past year show to what extent it is not merely material poverty, but also moral poverty, which damages peace." He appealed to government leaders to "be actively committed to ending intolerance and acts of harassment directed against Christians." The Pope offered his prayerful consolation to those Christians who suffer from discrimination and violence, remarking that their struggles are the price of the Church's missionary impulse. He said: "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."

In listing the conflicts that provoke special concern at the Vatican, the Pope began with the Holy Land. "Once again I would repeat that military options are no solution and that violence, wherever it comes from and whatever form it takes, must be firmly condemned," he said. "I express my hope that, with the decisive commitment of the international community, the ceasefire in the Gaza strip will be re-established."

Broadening his focus to include other countries in the Middle East, the Pontiff mentioned his concerns about Syria and Lebanon, and gave the leaders of Iraq "a particular word of encouragement to turn the page and to look forward." He called for a negotiated resolution of the dispute over Iran's ambition to develop nuclear weapons.

Turning to Asia the Pope welcomed new efforts to end the guerilla warfare in the Mindanao province of the Philippines, and the thaw in relations between Taiwan and mainland China. He said that a solution to the civil war in Sri Lanka "would also have to be political" rather than solely military.

Pope Benedict looked forward to his visit to Africa in 2009, and afforded the diplomats a preview of his main message to the continent by saying that the leaders of Africa should be "building peace by fighting moral and material poverty." He expressed deep concern about the conflicts in Somalia, Darfur, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the displacement of millions of people now living as refugees. In Somalia he voiced his hope that "restoration of the state will finally make progress" after years of anarchy and chaos. In Zimbabwe, too, "the situation remains critical," he said, alluding to the country's economic crisis as well as its political instability.

Regarding Latin America, the Pope 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."

Finally, in his remarks about Europe, the Holy Father began with a greeting to the small and embattled Christian minority in Turkey, noting that many Christians are planning pilgrimages to Tarsus during the Pauline Year. He mentioned his concerns about conflicts in Cyprus, Georgia, Serbia, and Kosovo.

Concluding his speech, the Pope returned to the theme of poverty, telling the diplomats that "the poorest human beings are unborn children." He urged all nations to protect those in need. The Pope said:

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.