01/09/2006, 00.00
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Pope Benedict XVI: peace damaged by terror, egoism and lack of freedom

In his speech to the diplomatic corps, Benedict XVI speaks twice of the Holy Land, evokes the danger of a clash of civilizations, laments the lack of religious freedom in countries like China, condemns the arms trade and human trafficking.  The need to respect freedom of information.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Peace is "hindered or damaged or threatened" in many parts of the world.  Its enemies are – alongside situations of aged conflicts, as in the Middle East – the danger of a clash of civilizations, at which terrorism aims, and obstacles to the right to information, but also hunger and the arms race and above all violations to religious freedom, which occur even in countries with "centuries-old cultural traditions", with thoughts running to China.  Benedict XVI paints a worried portrait of the world today in his speech to the representatives of 177 states and international organizations with which the Holy See holds diplomatic relations.  And even if the Pope called by name only a very few regions: the Middle East, the Holy Land, the Great Lakes, the areas of shadow areas seemed much greater than those of light.

Standing out in this portrait is the Holy Land, the "nerve point of the world scene", which the Pope indicated once with this name in affirming Israel's right to "to be able to exist peacefully" and the right of the "Palestinian people" to develop their own democratic institutions, and another time as "the birthplace of Jesus", to then turn his thoughts to Lebanon, "whose people must rediscover, with the support of international solidarity, their historic vocation to promote sincere and fruitful cooperation between different faith communities".

Benedict XVI set out his long speech, given in the "Sala Regia" of the Apostolic Palace, around the theme of "truth".  It is the "soul of justice" and thus compels us to "reject the law of might" and to respect "persons, of all peoples and cultures".  "And when these aspects of diversity and equality - distinct but complementary - are known and recognized, then problems can be resolved and disagreements settled according to justice".  When instead "one of them is misinterpreted or not given its due importance, it is then that misunderstanding arises, together with conflict, and the temptation to use overpowering violence."  "There seems to me", he went on to say, "to be an almost paradigmatic illustration of these considerations at that nerve point of the world scene, which is the Holy Land. There, the State of Israel has to be able to exist peacefully in conformity with the norms of international law; there, equally, the Palestinian people has to be able to develop serenely its own democratic institutions for a free and prosperous future."

He purposely begins with reflections on the Middle East, but widens the scope to the "global context", in referring to the danger of a clash of civilizations, on which Benedict XVI had already spoken in his days as a cardinal.  "The danger," he said today, "is made more acute by organized terrorism, which has already spread over the whole planet. Its causes are many and complex, not least those to do with political ideology, combined with aberrant religious ideas."  "No situation, " he also repeated today, "can justify such criminal activity, which covers the perpetrators with infamy, and it is all the more deplorable when it hides behind religion, thereby bringing the pure truth of God down to the level of the terrorists' own blindness and moral perversion."

As part of the commitment to truth, to which the Pope calls diplomacy as well, Benedict XVI also included the advancement of cultural exchanges and therefore the freedom of information, which includes the use of Internet.  "What is needed above all today," he stated in fact, "is the removal of everything that impedes access to information, through the press and through modern information technology".

But the commitment towards truth, and this is the second point stressed by the Pope, "establishes and strengthens the right to freedom." Religious freedom, he states, is fundamental.  And "unfortunately, in some States, even among those who can boast centuries-old cultural traditions, freedom of religion, far from being guaranteed, is seriously violated, especially where minorities are concerned."  The implicit, but obvious, reference is to China.

The third point, that the "commitment to truth opens the way to forgiveness and reconciliation", gave Benedict XVI the occasion to recognize, in John Paul II's footsteps, that "serious mistakes were also made in the past" by members and institutions of the Catholic Church which "she condemns" and for which "she has not hesitated to ask for forgiveness. This is required by the commitment to truth."  Recalling "the illuminating words of John Paul II: 'There can be no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness,'" Benedict XVI repeats them "to the leaders of nations, especially those where the physical and moral wounds of conflicts are most painful, and the need for peace most urgent. One thinks immediately of the birthplace of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, who had a message of peace and forgiveness for all; one thinks of Lebanon, whose people must rediscover, with the support of international solidarity, their historic vocation to promote sincere and fruitful cooperation between different faith communities; and of the whole Middle East, especially Iraq, the cradle of great civilizations, which in these past years has suffered daily from violent acts of terrorism. One thinks of Africa, particularly the countries of the Great Lakes region, still affected by the tragic consequences of the fratricidal wars of recent years; of the defenceless people of Darfur, subjected to deplorable violence, with dangerous international repercussions; and of so many other countries throughout the world which are the theatre of violent conflict."

And, finally, if peace "is not merely the silence of arms," "one cannot speak of peace in situations where human beings are lacking even the basic necessities for living with dignity."  Thus it is for those who suffer starvation, for displaced persons and refugees, for migrants, for the victims of "the scourge of human trafficking, which remains a disgrace in our time." "They cannot be said to be living in peace, even though they are not in a state of war: indeed they are defenceless victims of war."

Benedict's XVI associates his thoughts on "humanitarian emergencies" to the arms trade.  "On the basis of available statistical data, it can be said that less than half of the immense sums spent worldwide on armaments would be more than sufficient to liberate the immense masses of the poor from destitution. This challenges humanity's conscience. To peoples living below the poverty line, more as a result of situations to do with international political, commercial and cultural relations than as a result of circumstances beyond anyone's control, our common commitment to truth can and must give new hope." (FP)

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