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World is ‘seriously ill,’ Pope tells diplomats

February 08, 2021

In an address to the diplomatic corps, Pope Francis said that the Covid epidemic has “shown us the face of a world that is seriously ill,” and called for an end to “a way of life dominated by selfishness and a culture of waste.”

Early each year the Roman Pontiff delivers a talk to the ambassadors accredited to the Holy See. The annual address has come to serve as a papal “State of the World” address. This year Pope Francis gave his speech on February 8. Originally scheduled for January, the event had been postponed because of the Pope’s bout with sciatica.

Typically a papal address to the diplomatic corps provides a survey of the world’s trouble spots, and gives the ambassadors an opportunity to assess the Vatican’s top priorities in world affairs. But Pope Francis concentrated primarily on the Covid epidemic and its effects. He also spoke about the environment and international migration—clearly among his own top priorities—before turning to areas of conflict.

The Pope made a strong statement against abortion and euthanasia, saying: “If we deprive the weakest among us of the right to life, how can we effectively guarantee respect for every other right?” And he insisted the religious freedom must be honored, even during a pandemic, as “the primary and fundamental human right.”

Opening his address with an acknowledgment of the difficulties that the world has faced since early 2020, the Pontiff said that he was looking forward to a resumption of normal activities. He mentioned his plan to travel to Iraq in March, for example. However he spoke at some length about the need to respond to the Covid crisis, saying that government should take steps to protect all citizens, and insisting that vaccines should be available to all the world’s people.

Speaking more generally about health care, the Pope called for universal access to medical care. “Concern for profit should not be guiding a field as sensitive as that of health care,” he said.

“The pandemic has demonstrated once again that the earth itself is fragile and in need of care,” the Pope said, turning to the topic of care for the environment. He said that a different way of life must be adopted in order to preserve the planet for future generations.

Finally turning to the world’s most troubled areas, the Pope expressed his concern about the military coup in Myanmar, and said that he prayed that the year 2021 will see an end to the continuing warfare in Syria. He also mentioned his hopes for a stable peace in the Middle East, a resolution of the political impasse in Lebanon, an end to fighting in Libya and the Central African Republic, a revived drive toward nuclear disarmament, and a worldwide commitment against terrorism.

Conspicuously missing from the papal speech was any reference to China’s brutal suppression of the Uighur minority, or to the economic and political disaster in Venezuela—subjects that have prompted many observers to call for moral leadership from the Vatican.

The Pope spoke to the assembled ambassadors in the Hall of Blessings, a venue that allowed more room for social-distancing protocols. When he greeted each one of the diplomats personally after his address, the Pope let them know that they were free to wear masks or not, as they preferred, when they approached him.

There are 183 nations that have ambassadors accredited to the Holy See as of February 2021. The diplomatic corps at the Vatican also includes representatives of the European Union and the Order of Malta.


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