Deploring war, civil conflict and poverty around the world, Pope Benedict XVI told foreign ambassadors assembled at the Vatican that peace-building requires charity, religious liberty, a proper understanding of human rights and openness to divine love.
Pope Benedict made his remarks Jan. 7 in his annual address to members
of the Vatican's diplomatic corps, presenting a survey of global
troubles including "endless slaughter" in civil war-torn Syria,
terrorist attacks on Christians in Nigeria and the impact of Hurricane
Sandy on the East Coast of the United States. He also warned about the
international spread of legalized abortion and growing inequality
between rich and poor.
"Peace is not simply the fruit of human effort, but a participation in
the very love of God," Pope Benedict told the envoys. "Without openness
to the transcendent, human beings easily become prey to relativism and
find it difficult to act justly and to work for peace."
The pope pointedly distinguished true religion, which he said aims at
"reconciling men and women with God" and hence with each other, from a
"baneful religious fanaticism which, again in 2012, reaped victims in
some countries represented here."
He particularly condemned recent attacks on Christian churches in
Nigeria, including the "barbarous" killings of a dozen people by gunmen
during services at Christmas. His remarks on sub-Saharan Africa also
included a call for international intervention in Mali, where a military
regime is fighting to reclaim the country's north from Islamist rebel
The pope's speech gave special attention to "that privileged region in
God's plan, the Middle East," reiterating earlier calls for a cease-fire
and peace talks in Syria, where he said the almost two-year civil war
"will know no victors but only vanquished if it continues, leaving
behind it nothing but a field of ruins." He urged foreign governments to
provide "essential humanitarian aid" in response to the "grave
humanitarian situation" in Syria.
Pope Benedict also reiterated the Vatican's support for a two-state
solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Alluding to Egypt's new
Islamist constitution, which has drawn opposition from liberals and
religious minorities, the pope assured "all Egyptians of my closeness
and my prayers at this time when new institutions are being set in
Speaking more generally, the pope stressed that peacemaking requires the
protection of fundamental human rights and dignity, especially through
"respect for human life at every stage." He said he felt "dismay" over
recent moves to decriminalize abortion in various countries, which he
said would upset the "balance between the right to life of the mother
and that of the unborn child, a right belonging equally to both."
In Western societies today, the pope said, "rights are often confused
with exaggerated manifestations of the autonomy of the individual, who
becomes self-referential ... absorbed only in seeking to satisfy his or
her own needs."
Such societies also suffer from distorted economic values, the pope
said: "The current economic and financial crisis ... developed because
profit was all too often made absolute, to the detriment of labor, and
because of unrestrained ventures in the financial areas of the economy,
rather than attending to the real economy."
Acknowledging tensions within the European Union between financially
troubled debtor nations and their more prosperous neighbors, Pope
Benedict called for continental solidarity and voiced dismay over
"increasing differences between those few who grow ever richer and the
many who grow hopelessly poorer."
The pope also stressed the importance to peace of religious liberty,
particularly the "right of conscientious objection," which he said was
under threat in unspecified countries.
In the United States, an Obama administration plan to force most
Catholic institutions to provide insurance coverage for contraception
and sterilizations, which violate the church's moral teaching, has
provoked strenuous opposition from U.S. bishops.
"Outlawing individual and institutional conscientious objection in the
name of liberty and pluralism paradoxically opens by contrast the door
to intolerance and forced uniformity," the pope said.
The Holy See currently has diplomatic relations with 179 countries, as
well as the European Union, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and
the Palestine Liberation Organization.