Pope: true peace needs respect for human rights
by Franco Pisano
In the message for the World Day of Peace of 2007, Benedict XVI reaffirmed respect for life and religious freedom. To encourage the growth of the ‘tree of peace’, it is necessary to be led by a vision of mankind that is not marred by ideological and cultural prejudices or by political or economic interests that incite hatred and violence.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Respect of human beings and their rights constitute the true path towards peace, “a characteristic of divine action”, a gift of God and an obligation that binds individuals, states and the international community as a whole.

This is the concept around which Benedict XVI developed his message for World Day of Peace 2007 that will be celebrated on 1 January. However, in the message published today, Benedict XVI did not limit himself to indicating factors and elements that prevent or oppose the affirmation of peace, ranging from a lack of respect for life to violations of intangible religious freedom, from rampant exploitation of nature to terrorism, from the permeation of gender imbalances and unequal access to essential items to new nuclear escalation. He also indicates those cultural approaches that oppose peace.

The pope urged “commitment to give life to a human ecology that favours the growth of the ‘tree of peace’. To attempt such an undertaking, it is necessary to allow ourselves to be guided by a vision of the person that is not marred by ideological and cultural prejudices or by political or economic interests that incite hatred and violence. It is understandable that the visions held by men should vary from culture to culture. However, what cannot be allowed is the cultivation of anthropological concepts with inherent seeds of conflict and violence. Equally unacceptable are those concepts of God that stimulate intolerance towards one’s fellow men and recourse to violence towards them. This is a point that must be reiterated clearly: war in the name of God is never acceptable! When a certain concept of God is at the root of criminal acts, it is a sign that this concept has already been transformed into ideology (n.10).”

 “Respect for people promotes peace,” continued the pope, stressing “the duty to respect the dignity of each and every person” (n.4). The first consequence of this is the reality that “people cannot be used for one’s pleasure (n.4)”. The message also indicates factors that grievously oppose peace, like the denial of the right to life or religious freedom. “As for the right to life, we have the duty to denounce its destruction in our societies: alongside the victims of armed conflicts, terrorism, and various forms of violence, there are those silent deaths provoked by hunger, abortion, experiments on embryos and euthanasia. How could all this be seen as anything other than an attack on peace? (n.5)”

As for the lack of freedom of worship, it is a “worrying symptom of the lack of peace in the world”. Benedict XVI continued: “Speaking especially about Christians, I must say with sorrow that at times they are not only hindered, in some states, they are actually persecuted and tragic episodes of cruel violence have been reported even recently. There are regimes that impose one religion on all and then there are indifferent regimes that do not fuel violent persecution but promote systematic cultural derision of religious beliefs. In any case, a fundamental right is not being respected, with grave repercussions for peaceful coexistence (n.5)”.

However, several tensions threatening peace are certainly also rooted in “the many unjust inequalities still tragically present in the world. Particularly insidious ones are, on the one hand, unequal access to essential items like food, water, a home and health care and on the other, persistent inequalities between men and women in the enjoyment of fundamental human rights (n.6).”

“Insufficient consideration for the female condition brings factors of instability in the make-up of society. I think about the exploitation of women who are treated like objects and diverse forms of lack of respect for their dignity; I also think about – in a different context – anthropological concepts persisting in some cultures, which relegate women to a place that remains strongly subject to the will of men, with harmful consequences for human dignity and the exercise of consequent fundamental freedoms (n.7).”

True and lasting peace therefore presupposes respect for human rights and also an outlook that respects the environment, for “experience shows that all approaches that disrespect the environment harm human coexistence and vice-versa. The inseparable link between peace with creation and peace among men is emerging ever more clearly. One and the other presuppose peace with God (n.8).” If respect for human rights is indispensable, the focus once again becomes the concept of the person because if “these rights are based on a weak concept of the person, how could we expect them not to be weakened too? The profound shortcomings of a relativistic concept of the person are evident when it comes to justifying and defending rights (n.12).”

“The rights attributed to mankind can be affirmed without fear of denial only if they are grounded in the objective requirements of the nature bestowed on man by the Creator (n.12).” Safeguarding human rights implies, ultimately, a “constant reference” to the activities of international organizations, especially the UN and the Universal Declaration drawn up by this entity in 1948. “A moral commitment assumed by all of mankind”, this should also guarantee respect for international humanitarian law, “largely disobeyed”, for example, in the recent conflict in southern Lebanon.

And if terrorism on the one hand and “the will declared by some states to equip themselves with nuclear arms” on the other thicken “threatening shadows” on the horizon, “the contribution of each believer to promote true, holistic humanism never fails” (n.17), a means to “become staunch defenders of human dignity and courageous peace-builders.”

To read the complete Message of Benedict XVI, click here.