Vatican City (AsiaNews) – For Pope Benedict XVI, the beginning of 2007 is still marked by many dark spots in the world—the lack of religious freedom in Asia, conflicts in Africa, tensions in the Mideast, hunger in many countries around the world, growing attacks against life and the family, disarmament negotiations at a standstill—but there are some bright ones as well, first of all, a greater awareness that a dialogue between cultures and religions is a “vital necessity” even though more is needed because only “respecting the human person” can “peace [. . .] be promoted”.
In his address to the envoys of the 175 countries that have diplomatic relations with the Vatican, to the representatives of the European Communities and the Sovereign Order of Malta as well those representing two special missions, that of the Russian Federation and that of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the Pope presented the world as seen from the perspective of the Holy See.
In turning his “attention to the international situation, so as to focus upon the challenges that we are called to address together” and singling out specific situations in 28 countries, Benedict XVI identified among the “key issues” the “worsening scandal of hunger,” a problem that is “unacceptable in a world which has the resources, the knowledge, and the means available to bring it to an end”.
It is something that “impels us to change our way of life, [and] reminds us of the urgent need to eliminate the structural causes of global economic dysfunction and to correct models of growth that seem incapable of guaranteeing respect for the environment and for integral human development, both now and in the future.”.
The Pontiff urged each and everyone, but especially to the wealthiest nations, “to take the necessary steps to ensure that poor countries, which often have a wealth of natural resources, are able to benefit from the fruits of goods that are rightfully theirs.”
For this reason he expressed hope that trade negotiations in the “Doha Development Round” under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation will be resumed, and that “the process of debt cancellation and reduction for the poorest countries will be continued and accelerated” insisting at “the same time” that “these processes must not be made conditional upon structural adjustments that are detrimental to the most vulnerable populations.” By the same token, he said “the commitment of developed countries to devote 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic product to international aid” must be maintained.
For him, “the continuous attacks on life, from conception to natural death” are part of this wider problem, pointing out that such “attacks do not even spare regions with a traditional culture of respecting life, such as Africa, where there is an attempt to trivialise abortion surreptitiously”.
Similarly, “there are mounting threats to the natural composition of the family based on the marriage of a man and a woman, and attempts to relativise it by giving it the same status as other radically different forms of union. All this offends and helps to destabilize the family by concealing its specific nature and its unique social role. Other forms of attack on life are sometimes committed in the name of scientific research. There is a growing conviction that research is subject only to the laws that it chooses for itself and that it is limited only by its own possibilities. This is the case, for example, in attempts to legitimise human cloning for supposedly therapeutic ends.”
Referring, again in general terms, to the crisis in disarmament negotiations in both the conventional and weapons of mass destruction areas, the Pope stressed the fact that “[s]ecurity issues—aggravated by terrorism, which is to be utterly condemned—must be approached from a global and far-sighted perspective.”
In this context, Benedict XVI pointed to Iran and North Korea, calling on Tehran “to give a satisfactory response to the legitimate concerns of the international community,” whilst warning of the “[d]angerous sources of tension [. . .] lurking in the Korean Peninsula” and reiterating the “goal of reconciling the Korean people and maintaining the peninsula as a nuclear-free zone—which will bring benefits to the entire region—[. . .] within the context of negotiations.”
The Pope insisted also on the Holy See’s view that humanitarian aid to Pyongyang should continue to flow.
Again talking about Asia, he expressed hope that the growing role played by China and India on the international scene “will bring with it benefits for their own populations and for other nations”, adding that the Christian communities in that continent are “small but lively [. . .] with a legitimate desire to be able to live and act in a climate of religious liberty.” He noted that this “is not only a primordial right but it is a condition that will enable them to contribute to the material and spiritual progress of society, and to be sources of cohesion and harmony.”
Turning to single Asian countries, beside what he said about Korea, the Pope said that in “East Timor, the Catholic Church intends to continue making her contribution, notably in the fields of education, healthcare and national reconciliation. The political crisis experienced by this young state, and by other countries in the region, highlights a certain fragility in the processes of democratisation.”
The Pope expressed concern over Afghanistan, where “in recent months, we can only deplore the notable increase in violence and terrorist attacks. This has rendered the way out of the crisis more difficult, and it weighs heavily on the local population. In Sri Lanka, the failure of the Geneva negotiations between the government and the Tamil movement has brought with it an intensification of the conflict, causing great suffering among the civilian population. Only the path of dialogue can ensure a better and safer future for all.”
“The Middle East,” he noted, “is also a source of great anxiety. For this reason I decided to write a Christmas letter to the Catholics of the region, expressing my solidarity and spiritual closeness to them all, and encouraging them to remain in the region, as I am sure that their witness will be of assistance and support for a future of peace and fraternity. I renew my urgent appeal to all parties involved in the complex political chessboard of the region, hoping for a consolidation of the positive signs noted in recent weeks between Israelis and Palestinians. The Holy See will never tire of reiterating that armed solutions achieve nothing, as we saw in Lebanon last summer. In fact, the future of that country depends upon the unity of all its components, and upon fraternal relations between its different religious and social groupings. This would constitute a message of hope for all. It is no longer possible to be satisfied with partial or unilateral solutions. In order to put an end to the crisis and to the sufferings it causes among the population, a global approach is needed, which excludes no one from the search for a negotiated settlement, taking into account the legitimate interests and aspirations of the different peoples involved. In particular, the Lebanese have a right to see the integrity and sovereignty of their country respected; the Israelis have a right to live in peace in their state; the Palestinians have a right to a free and sovereign homeland. When each of the peoples in the region sees that its expectations are taken into consideration and thus feels less threatened, then mutual trust will be strengthened.” If relations between Iran and the international community improve, mutual trust will help “stabilise the whole region, especially Iraq, putting an end to the appalling violence which disfigures that country with bloodshed, and offering an opportunity to work for reconstruction and reconciliation between all its inhabitants.”
As for the rest of the world, Benedict XVI expressed sorrow for the conflicts that continue to afflict Africa, from the Darfur to Somalia—which he mentioned in remembering Sister Leonella Sgorbati, “who gave her life in the service of the least fortunate, and prayed that her murderers be forgiven”—and Uganda, a “cruel conflict which has even seen numerous children enlisted and forced to become soldiers.”
In latin America, the improvement in certain economic indicators, the commitment to combat drug-trafficking and corruption, and recent elections and are “all signs to be viewed with satisfaction”. Yet, “the practice of democracy must not be allowed to turn into the dictatorship of relativism, by proposing anthropological models incompatible with the nature and dignity of the human person.”
For Latin America, the Pope devoted a special thought goes to kidnap victims in Colombia and to Cuba. “In voicing the hope that all of its inhabitants may realize their legitimate aspirations, amid concern for the common good, I should like to renew the appeal made by my venerable Predecessor: ‘Let Cuba open itself to the world, and let the world open itself to Cuba.’ Mutual openness to other countries can only bring benefits to all concerned.”
Finally, for Europe, the Pope said that “some reflection on the Constitutional Treaty would seem appropriate.” He added: “I hope that the fundamental values that are at the basis of human dignity will be fully protected, particularly religious freedom in all its dimensions and the institutional rights of Churches. Likewise, one cannot ignore the undeniable Christian heritage of the continent, which has greatly contributed to the formation of European nations and European peoples.”
By way of conclusion, the Holy Father noted that “situations I have mentioned constitute a challenge that touches us all—a challenge to promote and consolidate all the positive elements in the world, and to overcome, with good will, wisdom and tenacity, all that causes injury, degradation and death. It is by respecting the human person that peace can be promoted, and it is by building peace that the foundations of an authentic integral humanism are laid. This is where I find the answer to the concern for the future voiced by so many of our contemporaries. Yes, the future can be serene if we work together for humanity.”