01/08/2009, 00.00
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Pope: to build peace, new hope must be given to poor

The Middle East and Asia come first in the examination of the situation in the world made by Benedict XVI, with diplomats. Restoring the ceasefire in Gaza. New leaders for peace needed. Anti-Christian violence in India and Iraq. The lack of religious freedom. The economic crisis means trust must be restored.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "To build peace, we need to give new hope to the poor": this is the central theme of the examination that Benedict XVI made today of the situation in the world from the point of view of the Catholic Church, the traditional topic of the speech that the pope gives each year to the diplomats accredited to the Holy See. This year, they represent 177 states that have full diplomatic relations, to which must be added the special representations, like Russia, the PLO, and the Order of Malta. The pope spoke of material poverty, but also spiritual, which "is fought if humanity becomes more fraternal as a result of shared values and ideals, founded on the dignity of the person, on freedom joined to responsibility, on the effective recognition of the place of God in the life of man."

Benedict XVI's view of the world situation - beginning with the conflict underway in Gaza - is, in the end, a list of the places where, to a greater or lesser extent, that fraternity and those "values and ideals" are not recognized. Asia is still in the lead of this unenviable classification, as before with the report on the respect for religious freedom in the world. Present both in the "acts of discrimination and the very grave attacks" of which the Christians in India have been the victims - with the request that the authorities be "actively committed to ending intolerance and acts of harassment directed against Christians" - and in Iraq, and in the concern over the new laws in this area that are emerging in the republics of central Asia. The Church, the pope repeated, "does not demand privileges, but the full application of the principle of religious freedom." The Christian communities living in Asia, he continued, although they are small, also "wish to contribute in a convincing and effective way to the common good, stability and progress of their countries, as they bear witness to the primacy of God which sets up a healthy order of values and grants a freedom more powerful than acts of injustice." This phrase is an echo of one contained in a letter written in May of 2007 by the pope to Chinese Catholics, whom he did not mention this time. It is a sign of further openness, and perhaps of hope, rather than a confirmation of change.

Naturally, a large section of the pope's address was dedicated to the Middle East, and in the first place to the Holy Land, where "in these days, we have witnessed a renewed outbreak of violence provoking immense damage and suffering for the civilian population." "Once again I would repeat that military options are no solution and that violence, wherever it comes from and whatever form it takes, must be firmly condemned. I express my hope that, with the decisive commitment of the international community, the ceasefire in the Gaza strip will be re-established – an indispensable condition for restoring acceptable living conditions to the population –, and that negotiations for peace will resume, with the rejection of hatred, acts of provocation and the use of arms." To this end, the pope expressed his hope that from the elections scheduled for the near future "leaders will emerge who can decisively carry forward this process and guide their people towards the difficult yet indispensable reconciliation. This cannot be reached without the adoption of a global approach to the problems of these countries, with respect for the legitimate aspirations and interests of all parties."

But in the mind of Benedict XVI, also in the Middle East "wholehearted support must be given to dialogue between Israel and Syria and, in Lebanon, to the current strengthening of institutions; this will be all the more effective if it is carried out in a spirit of unity. To the Iraqis, who are preparing again to take full control of their future, I offer a particular word of encouragement to turn the page and to look forward in order to rebuild without discrimination on the basis of race, ethnic group or religion." It is significant that, together with condemnation of the anti-Christian violence in India and Iraq, there is the hope that "in the Western world, prejudice or hostility against Christians will not be cultivated simply because, on certain questions, their voice causes disquiet."

The Middle East returned in the statement that "as far as Iran is concerned, tireless efforts must be made to seek a negotiated solution to the controversy concerning the nation’s nuclear programme, through a mechanism capable of satisfying the legitimate demands of the country and of the international community." And again Asia, in the statement that "a definitive solution of the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka would also have to be political, since the humanitarian needs of the peoples concerned must continue to receive ongoing attention," and in the "progress" that the pope sees in the "the new negotiations for peace in Mindanao, in the Philippines, and the new direction being taken in relations between Beijing and Taipei."

Looking to Africa, where the pope expects to visit next March, his thought went in particular to children: "Many children have the tragic experience of being refugees and displaced persons in Somalia, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are waves of migration involving millions of persons in need of humanitarian assistance and who above all have been deprived of their elementary rights and offended in their dignity." From there to Latin America, with an appeal that "the needs of emigrants need to be taken into consideration by legislation which would make it easier to reunite families, reconciling the legitimate requirements of security with those of inviolable respect for the person," and praise for "the overriding commitment shown by some governments towards re-establishing the rule of law and waging an uncompromising battle against the drug trade and political corruption."

But beyond the individual situations, Benedict XVI emphasized how conflicts and terrorism demonstrate that "despite so many efforts, the peace we so desire still remains distant! Faced with this reality, we must not grow discouraged or lessen our commitment to a culture of authentic peace, but rather redouble our efforts on behalf of security and development." Especially in the face of the world economic crisis and the increase in weapons that "divert enormous human and material resources from projects for development, especially the development of the poorest peoples." As for a crisis hitting those most weak, "there is an urgent need to adopt an effective strategy to fight hunger and to promote local agricultural development, all the more so since the number of the poor is increasing even within the rich countries. In this perspective, I am pleased that the recent Doha Conference on financing development identified some helpful criteria for directing the governance of the economic system and helping those who are most in need. On a deeper level, bolstering the economy demands rebuilding confidence. This goal will only be reached by implementing an ethics based on the innate dignity of the human person. I know how demanding this will be, yet it is not a utopia!"

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