04/19/2009, 00.00
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Pope: UN Durban review conference on racism "important"

The UN conference is being boycotted by the United States, Canada, Australia, Israel, and criticized by the Italian government. Benedict XVI hopes for common, constructive work to put an end to every form of racism with education. A greeting to the Orthodox Churches, which are celebrating Pascha today. Thanks for the wishes he received on the occasion of his birthday (April 16) and for the anniversary of his election as pontiff (today, April 19). The Divine Mercy is the source of unity in the Church, "one family" with "one heart and one soul."

Castelgandolfo (AsiaNews) - The Holy See is distancing itself from the criticisms of some Western countries, and is giving its support to the UN conference beginning tomorrow in Geneva, reviewing the "Durban Declaration" (2001) "against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance." Immediately after the Regina Caeli, recited with the pilgrims at Castelgandolfo, Benedict XVI called the initiative "important," because "still today, despite the teachings of history, these deplorable phenomena can still be seen."

In recent weeks, the United States, Canada, Italy, and Israel have criticized the declaration because it presented harsh criticisms of the state of Israel, accused of racism toward the Palestinians, and because it defined Zionism as a racist ideology.

After this, the UN commission amended the proposed final text, removing the references to Israel, to Zionism, to the Middle Eastern conflict and other divisive topics, but the United States decided "with regret" to boycott the conference, together with Israel and Canada. The European Union (EU) would like to find a consensus position. Italy wants to boycott, but Great Britain has already announced that it will send representatives to Geneva.

An appeal to the EU not to boycott the meeting, but to adopt a "constructive" attitude in the name of the fight against racism, xenophobia, and intolerance was issued a few days ago by the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, Thomas Hammarberg.

The pope's position, expressed today, seems to point in the same direction of constructive participation and criticism. Speaking to the pilgrims, Benedict XVI said: "The Durban Declaration recognizes that 'all peoples and persons form a human family, rich in diversity. They have contributed to the progress of the civilization and the cultures that constitute the common heritage of humanity . . . the promotion of tolerance, pluralism, and respect can lead to a more inclusive society'. On the basis of these affirmations, firm and concrete action is required on the national and international level, to prevent and eliminate every form of discrimination and intolerance. Above all, a vast work of education is required, to uphold the dignity of the person and protect his fundamental rights. The Church, for its part, reiterates that only the recognition of the dignity of man, created in the image and likeness of God, can constitute a sure point of reference for this effort. This common origin, in fact, gives rise to a common destiny of humanity, which should bring forth in each and in all a strong sense of solidarity and responsibility. I express my sincere hope that the delegates at the Geneva conference may work together in the spirit of dialogue and mutual acceptance to put an end to every form of racism, discrimination and intolerance, marking a fundamental step toward the affirmation of the universal value of the dignity of man and his rights, in a context of respect and justice for every person and people."

The reflection before the Regina Caeli was focused on the theme of the Divine Mercy. Benedict XVI recalled that it was John Paul II who established the second Sunday of Easter as the Sunday of "Divine Mercy," pointing out "to all the risen Christ as the source of trust and hope, accepting the spiritual message transmitted by the Lord to Saint Faustina Kowalska, synthesized in the invocation 'Jesus, I trust in you!'."

"The communion of the first Christians," the pope explained, "had the risen Christ as its true center and foundation. The Gospel says, in fact, that at the moment of the passion, when the divine Teacher was arrested and condemned to death, the disciples fled. Only Mary and the women, together with the apostle John, stayed together and followed him all the way to Calvary. Once he had risen, Jesus gave his followers a new unity, stronger than the kind they had before, invincible, because it was founded not on human resources, but on the divine mercy, which made them feel they were all loved and forgiven by him. It is therefore the merciful love of God that firmly unites the Church, today as yesterday, and makes humanity a single family; the divine love, which through Jesus crucified and risen forgives our sins and renews us from within."

Among his more important greetings, Benedict XVI included the Orthodox communities that are celebrating Pascha today according to the Julian calendar. "I extend," the pope said, "a cordial greeting and best wishes to the brothers and sisters of the Eastern Churches which, following the Julian calendar, celebrate holy Pascha today. May the risen Lord renew in all the light of faith, and give an abundance of joy and peace."

The pope also expressed his thanks for the greetings he had received at Easter for his birthday (April 16) and the anniversary of his election as pope (April 19). "In the atmosphere of joy that comes from faith in the risen Christ," he said, "I desire to express a most cordial 'thank you' to all those - and they are truly many - who have sent me a sign of affection and spiritual closeness in these days, both for the Easter celebrations and for my birthday - April 16 - and also for the fourth anniversary of my election to the see of Peter, which falls today. I thank the Lord for all of this sincere affection. As I had the opportunity to say recently, I never feel alone. Even more during this extraordinary week, which in terms of the liturgy constitutes a single day, I have experienced the communion that surrounds and supports me: a spiritual solidarity, essentially nourished by prayer, which is manifested in a thousand ways. From my coworkers in the Roman curia to the parishes that are geographically farthest away, we Catholics form and must feel ourselves to be a single family, animated by the same sentiments as the first Christian community, about which the text of the Acts of the Apostles that is read this Sunday says: 'the multitude of those who had become believers had one heart and one soul' (Acts 4:32).

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