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Pope’s focus on human rights, migration, ecology in ‘State of the World’ address

January 08, 2018

Pope Francis subtly criticized the policies of the Trump administration, protested against “ideological colonization,” and renewed his appeals for acceptance of migrants and protection of the environment, in his January 8 address to the Vatican diplomatic corps.

The annual papal speech to the diplomatic accredited to the Holy See, always scheduled early in the new year, is seen as the Pope’s “state of the world” address. Following the usual pattern for this event, Pope Francis—after being welcomed by Angola’s Ambassador Armindo Fernandez do Espirto Santo Vieira, the dean of the Vatican diplomatic corps—offered a tour of the world’s trouble spots, combined with an analysis of overall geopolitical trends.

In his opening remarks, Pope Francis reminded the assembled diplomats that in its public actions “the Holy See seeks only to promote the spiritual and material well-being of the human person and to promote the common good.” He gave a quick account of his foreign travels during the past year, explaining how they advanced those goals.

Moving on to his more general theme, the Pope remarked that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the close of World War I. He praised American President Woodrow Wilson for having proposed the League of Nations, as a means of using diplomatic negotiations to prevent the outbreak of another such catastrophic conflict. The Pope then went on to say that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, eventually ratified by the United Nations, has been a landmark contribution to the cause of world peace.

However, the Pope continued, “over the years, particularly in the wake of the social upheaval of the 1960’s, the interpretation of some rights has progressively changed, with the inclusion of a number of ‘new rights’ that not infrequently conflict with one another.” Without explicitly listing these newly created ‘rights,’ the Pope observed that the international drive to promote them has seen “the rise of modern forms of ideological colonization by the stronger and the wealthier, to the detriment of the poorer and the most vulnerable.”

Moreover, the Pope said, some of the rights universally recognized in the past are still routinely violated. He pointed first to the right to life, saying that it is violated by warfare, by human trafficking, and by the failure to ensure adequate medical care for all. In this context the Pontiff called for greater efforts to promote world peace and especially for nuclear disarmament.

In mentioning the threat of nuclear warfare, the Pope deplored the language of confrontation that, he said, has heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula; he called for talks to ease that tension. Many analysts saw his remarks as a criticism of US policy under President Trump.

Turning to other troubled regions, the Holy Father called for greater efforts to secure peace in Syria and to bring a negotiated end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. In another indirect slap at Trump policies, he repeated that the “status quo” should be carefully protected and the status of Jerusalem unchanged.

Next the Pope spoke of the “increasingly dramatic and unprecedented political and humanitarian crisis” in Venezuela. He repeated the Vatican’s call for new elections, but avoided direct criticism of the regime headed by President Nicolas Maduro, which has been condemned repeatedly by the country’s Catholic bishops.

Finishing his tour of the world’s conflicts, the Pope mentioned the continuing bloodshed in Africa, particularly in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic. In his only direct allusion to European affairs, he said that “rebuilding bridges is also urgent in Ukraine.”

Returning to more general themes, Pope Francis said that he “would like to devote a special thought to families.” He lamented that “especially in the West, the family is considered an obsolete institution.” He warned that the family is the only basis for a stable society, and “a house built on the sand of frail and fickle relationships cannot stand.”

Families are torn apart by the forces of migration, the Pope said, launching into a new plea for acceptance and humane treatment of immigrants. “There is a need,” he said, “to abandon the familiar rhetoric and start from the essential consideration that we are dealing, above all, with persons.”

As he neared the conclusion of his speech, Pope Francis called for political leaders to recognize religious freedom, including the “freedom to change religion.” He also called for recognition of the right to employment.

In the final paragraphs of his address, the Pontiff called for a worldwide effort to protect the environment. He likened such a campaign to the construction of the great medieval cathedrals, saying that the project cannot be completed in our lifetime but can begin today as a sign of “the same spirit of service and intergenerational solidarity, and in this way be a sign of hope for our troubled world.”


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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: impossible - Jan. 12, 2018 2:05 PM ET USA

    The Pope has criticized Trump. Has he praised Trump's support for human life? Has the Pope criticized Obama and his policies - i.e. social justice violations, like the assault on the human dignity of innocent babies? Has he joined previous Popes in condemning socialism? Does Pope believe in the doctrine of subsidiarity?

  • Posted by: cincinnatus - Jan. 10, 2018 3:18 AM ET USA

    Praise for President Wilson? You may be right but if so, somebody in the Vatican doesn’t know history. Wilson was perhaps the most racist, ideologically colonialist, anti-life eugenicist, population control elitist President the US ever had and his failure League of Nations was an attempt to create a secularist global government structure that would have done away with the respct for induvidual autonomy and community self determination that Vatican has been espousing for decades.

  • Posted by: Tim S. - Jan. 08, 2018 10:02 PM ET USA

    I wish the Pope would focus more on issues like so many Catholics abandoning the faith and so churches are closing; lack of vocations, etc.