01/12/2004, 00.00
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Pope: War, terrorism and secularism are enemies of peace

by Bernardo Cervellera

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – At 11:00 this morning in the Vatican Apostolic Palace's Sala Regia, John Paul II met with 174 members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See to exchange New Year's greetings. The speech given by the Holy Father was an occasion to address the most urgent needs to which, according to the Holy See, the international community must lend its attention.

The pope listed various issues threatening world peace: the situation in Iraq; Israeli-Palestinian conflict; international terrorism; the enemy of secularism in religious expression. But the pope indicated where the seeds of peace are being sewn: in the martyrdom of Msgr. Michael Courtney, nuncio in Burundi and that of Sergio Veira de Mello, the UN director killed in Baghdad; and the on-going efforts of Christians of various denominations to educate for peace, justice and forgiveness.  

The pope especially thanked the dean the Diplomatic Corps, Hon. Giovanni Galassi, San Marino's ambassador, for his greeting and expressed his "prayer and affection" for the nations the ambassadors represent.

Speaking on the Middle East's threatened peace, John Paul II said that the Holy See was against the war in Iraq. However, "what is important today is that the international community help the Iraqi people, who have been freed from an oppressive regime, so that they are placed in conditions allowing them to take up the running of their country again, consolidating their own sovereignty and being able to determine a political and economic system in a democratic way in line with their aspirations so that Iraq may return as a credible collaborator in the international community."

Defining the Israeli-Palestinian problem as a "a permanent destabilizing factor in the entire region", the pope reminded those present that the "use of terrorism on one hand and retaliations, humiliating adversaries and hateful propaganda, on the other, " does not solve anything. And since peace is not "a mere balance of powers", a solution can be found only in the "respect for each other's legitimate aspirations; by returning to the bargaining table; and in the concrete efforts of the international community." 

The pope said the "tensions and conflicts" marring Africa with blood have created sorrow in the hearts of people, depletion of resources, the breaking down of institutions –all nourished by the continuous sale of arms.

Concerning such situations, the pope wanted to pay homage to Msgr. Michael Courtney, apostolic nuncio in Burundi, who was killed for "having wanted to serve the causes of peace and dialog" and Sergio Veira de Mello, the UN Special Representative in Iraq killed by a terrorist attack in Baghdad. It is precisely for the fight against international terrorism that the pope has sought the cooperation of the entire international community. "How can one not cite international terrorism which, in sewing fear, heat and fanaticism, dishonors all the causes its attempts to serve? I am not happy merely to say that every civilization that is worthy of being called as such supposes the categorical refusal of any association with violence."

 "And hence, the pontiff said, we will never resign ourselves to passively accept that violence holds peace hostage!" In order to obtain a more efficacious collective security, John Paul II said that we must give back to the UN its rightful place and role.     

The pope then spoke about the contribution that all believers make to bring about peace, in as much as they are God's witnesses to peace and justice. They are major "pillars in the building of a peaceful world and one which is brought to peace." Therefore the pontiff warned some countries, especially some in Europe, not to carry out any harmful secularism in religious expression. Here is his concern is seen for France which has denied the "displaying of showy religious symbols"; the controversies in Italy over the exposition of the crucifix; the Swedish government's interference in rites of Jewish circumcision in addition to pretensions to eliminate believers from participation in political debates and issues involving euthanasia and artificial insemination.

"The principle of secularism is invoked, the pope said,  "in terms of distinctions between political communities and religions (cf. Gaudium et Spes n. 76). However this distinction does not mean ignorance! Secular status is not secularism! The former is none other than the state's respect for all faiths, which guarantees the free practice of worship, spiritual, educational, and charitable activities by the community of believers. In a  pluralistic society, secularity is the place for communication between various spiritual traditions and the nation."

Hoping for "sane dialog between Church and State" the pope recalled a fresh fruit of secularism: the exclusion of the "Christian roots" from the European constitution, the result of a re-reading of history "through the prism of reductionist ideologies". In such a way there is the desire to forget Christianity's contribution to the "establishing" of Europe at the same time it was "evangelized" and the contribution of so many Christians to the fall of authoritarian regimes in eastern Europe.

The pope's message was concluded with an appeal to ecumenicalism and dialog between Christians. It is not only practiced as an act of obedience to Christ's call to unity, but also to "show the leaders of nations the resources from which they may draw" in order to bring about peace. In sum, ecumenicalism is a way for Christians to contribute to educating for peace.
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