Pope: respect for the rights of persons and nations essential for peace

In his address to diplomats, Francis asks for the solution to conflicts - starting with Syria - and tensions - from Korea to Ukraine, Yemen, South Sudan and Venezuela - and augurs that migrants and the "discarded" be welcomed, like unborn children and the elderly and respect for freedom of religion and opinion, the right to work.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Respect for every person, with all  their rights, in a perspective of integral human development, as a path to peace. This is the leitmotif of the length address delivered by Pope Francis this morning to the representatives of the 185 states and international organizations that have diplomatic relations with the Holy See, received for the exchange of New Year greetings.

Evoking the 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Francis asked for the solution to conflicts - starting with Syria - and tensions - from Korea to Ukraine, Yemen, South Sudan and Venezuela – and augured a welcome for migrants and for the "discarded", such as unborn children or the elderly and respect for the rights to religious freedom and opinion, to work.

First of all, the Pope recalled that this year marks the centenary of the end of the First World War, from the ashes "of the Great War, we can learn two lessons that, sad to say, humanity did not immediately grasp, leading within the space of twenty years to a new and even more devastating conflict.  The first lesson is that victory never means humiliating a defeated foe.. Peace is not built by vaunting the power of the victor over the vanquished.  Future acts of aggression are not deterred by the law of fear, but rather by the power of calm reason that encourages dialogue and mutual understanding as a means of resolving differences [1]. This leads to a second lesson: peace is consolidated when nations can discuss matters on equal terms".

Relations between nations, like human relationships, must also be regulated on the principle that "the principle that all states are by nature equal in dignity". "The basic premise of this approach is the recognition of the dignity of the human person, since disregard and contempt for that dignity resulted in barbarous acts that have outraged the conscience of mankind". And " “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms. Which in a Christian perspective is in "significant relationship" with the Gospel message.

" Those rights are premised on the nature objectively shared by the human race.  They were proclaimed in order to remove the barriers that divide the human family and to favour what the Church’s social doctrine calls integral human development".

But, particularly in the wake of the social upheaval of the 1960’s, "he interpretation of some rights has progressively changed, with the inclusion of a number of “new rights” that not infrequently conflict with one another". "Somewhat paradoxically, there is a risk that, in the very name of human rights, we will see the rise of modern forms of ideological colonization by the stronger and the wealthier, to the detriment of the poorer and the most vulnerable".

Seventy years after the Declaration of Human Rights, "it is painful to see how many fundamental rights continue to be violated today.  First among all of these is the right of every human person to life, liberty and personal security.  It is not only war or violence that infringes these rights.  In our day, there are more subtle means: I think primarily of innocent children discarded even before they are born, unwanted at times simply because they are ill or malformed, or as a result of the selfishness of adults.  I think of the elderly, who are often cast aside, especially when infirm and viewed as a burden.  I think of women who repeatedly suffer from violence and oppression, even within their own families.  I think too of the victims of human trafficking, which violates the prohibition of every form of slavery".

"Defending the right to life and physical integrity also means safeguarding the right to health on the part of individuals and their families". Efforts are therefore made to "ensure the supply of essential medicines at affordable prices".

"Defending the right to life also entails actively striving for peace, universally recognized as one of the supreme values to be sought and defended". For this purpose, "integral disarmament and integral development are intertwined", while “the proliferation of weapons clearly aggravates situations of conflict and entails enormous human and material costs that undermine development and the search for lasting peace" .

In the hope that men will instead choose the path of negotiation "it is of paramount importance to support every effort at dialogue on the Korean peninsula, in order to find new ways of overcoming the current disputes, increasing mutual trust and ensuring a peaceful future for the Korean people and the entire world.

Two States for Israelis and Palestinians

" It is also important for the various peace initiatives aimed at helping Syria to continue, in a constructive climate of growing trust between the parties, so that the lengthy conflict that has caused such immense suffering can finally come to an end.  Our shared hope is that, after so much destruction, the time for rebuilding has now come.  Yet even more than rebuilding material structures, it is necessary to rebuild hearts, to re-establish the fabric of mutual trust, which is the essential prerequisite for the flourishing of any society.  There is a need, then, to promote the legal, political and security conditions that restore a social life where every citizen, regardless of ethnic and religious affiliation, can take part in the development of the country.  In this regard, it is vital that religious minorities be protected, including Christians, who for centuries have made an active contribution to Syria’s history". " It is likewise important that the many refugees who have found shelter and refuge in neighbouring countries, especially in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, be able to return home.  The commitment and efforts made by these countries in this difficult situation deserve the appreciation and support of the entire international community".

"The desire for dialogue is also necessary in beloved Iraq, to enable its various ethnic and religious groups to rediscover the path of reconciliation and peaceful coexistence and cooperation.  Such is the case too in Yemen and other parts of the region, and in Afghanistan".

"I think in particular of Israelis and Palestinians, in the wake of the tensions of recent weeks.  The Holy See, while expressing sorrow for the loss of life in recent clashes, renews its pressing appeal that every initiative be carefully weighed so as to avoid exacerbating hostilities, and calls for a common commitment to respect, in conformity with the relevant United Nations Resolutions, the status quo of Jerusalem, a city sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims.  Seventy years of confrontation make more urgent than ever the need for a political solution that allows the presence in the region of two independent states within internationally recognized borders.  Despite the difficulties, a willingness to engage in dialogue and to resume negotiations remains the clearest way to achieving at last a peaceful coexistence between the two peoples".

"In national contexts, too, openness and availability to encounter are essential.  I think especially of Venezuela, which is experiencing an increasingly dramatic and unprecedented political and humanitarian crisis.  The Holy See, while urging an immediate response to the primary needs of the population, expresses the hope that conditions will be created so that the elections scheduled for this year can resolve the existing conflicts, and enable people to look to the future with newfound serenity".

"Nor can the international community overlook the suffering of many parts of the African continent, especially in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Nigeria and the Central African Republic, where the right to life is threatened by the indiscriminate exploitation of resources, terrorism, the proliferation of armed groups and protracted conflicts".

"A shared commitment to rebuilding bridges is also urgent in Ukraine.  The year just ended reaped new victims in the conflict that afflicts the country, continuing to bring great suffering to the population, particularly to families who live in areas affected by the war and have lost their loved ones, not infrequently the elderly and children".

Alongside the international situation, Francis highlighted some realities that injure social peace, starting with the family, that "specially in the West, the family is considered an obsolete institution.  Today fleeting relationships are preferred to the stability of a definitive life project.  But a house built on the sand of frail and fickle relationships cannot stand.  What is needed instead is a rock on which to build solid foundations", represented by the "faithful and indissoluble communion of love that joins man and woman".

“Today there is much talk about migrants and migration, at times only for the sake of stirring up primal fears.  It must not be forgotten that migration has always existed.  In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the history of salvation is essentially a history of migration.  Nor should we forget that freedom of movement, for example, the ability to leave one’s own country and to return there, is a fundamental human right. There is a need, then, to abandon the familiar rhetoric and start from the essential consideration that we are dealing, above all, with persons". In this regard, the Pope thanked Bangladesh for helping the Rohingya people and expressed "particular gratitude to Italy, which in recent years has shown an open and generous heart and has also been able to offer positive examples of integration". Francis also expressed his appreciation to Greece and Germany.

Freedom of religion, even to change it

"Among the human rights that I would like to recall today is the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, which includes freedom to change religion [20]. Sad to say, it is well-known that the right to religious freedom is often disregarded, and not infrequently religion becomes either an occasion for the ideological justification of new forms of extremism or a pretext for the social marginalization of believers, if not their downright persecution.  The condition for building inclusive societies is the integral comprehension of the human person, who can feel himself or herself truly accepted when recognized and accepted in all the dimensions that constitute his or her identity, including the religious dimension".

Referring finally to the right to work, the Pope affirmed that " There can be no peace or development if individuals are not given the chance to contribute personally by their own labour to the growth of the common good". But " On the one hand, we note an inequitable distribution of the work opportunities, while on the other, a tendency to demand of labourers an ever more pressing pace.  The demands of profit, dictated by globalization, have led to a progressive reduction of times and days of rest, with the result that a fundamental dimension of life has been lost – that of rest – which serves to regenerate persons not only physically but also spiritually”. “A cause for particular concern are the data recently published by the International Labour Organization regarding the increase of child labourers and victims of the new forms of slavery".

"In recalling some of the rights contained in the 1948 Universal Declaration, I do not mean to overlook one of its important aspects, namely, the recognition that every individual also has duties towards the community". In this regard, Francis spoke of "caring for our earth.  We know that nature can itself be cruel, even apart from human responsibility.  We saw this in the past year with the earthquakes that struck different parts of our world, especially those of recent months in Mexico and in Iran, with their high toll of victims, and with the powerful hurricanes that struck different countries of the Caribbean, also reaching the coast of the United States, and, more recently, the Philippines.  Even so, one must not downplay the importance of our own responsibility in interaction with nature.  Climate changes, with the global rise in temperatures and their devastating effects, are also a consequence of human activity.  Hence there is a need to take up, in a united effort, the responsibility of leaving to coming generations a more beautiful and livable world, and to work, in the light of the commitments agreed upon in Paris in 2015, for the reduction of gas emissions that harm the atmosphere and human health". (FP)