positive and negative occurrences over the past year with the world’s 175 diplomats to the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI focused on the world’s continents and proposed continued international cooperation to advance freedom and peace.
In what was the most extensive part of his long and detailed discourse, the Pontiff said that, “in considering the political situation in the various continents, we find even more reasons for concern and reasons for hope. At the outset, we note that peace is often fragile and even mocked.”
In respect to the African Continent, the Pope began, “The drama of Darfur continues and is being extended to the border regions of Chad and the Central African Republic. The international community has seemed powerless for almost four years, despite initiatives intended to bring relief to the populations in distress and to arrive at a political solution.”
“I invite all those concerned to act with determination,” the Pope said, “we cannot accept that so many innocent people continue to suffer and die in this way.”
The Holy Father also noted the worsening situation in the Horn of Africa, “with the resumption of hostilities and the internationalization of the conflict…With regard to Uganda, we must pray for the progress of negotiations between the parties, in order to hasten the end of that cruel conflict which has even seen numerous children enlisted and forced to become soldiers,” he lamented.
“I repeat: we must not forget Africa with its numerous situations of war and tension. We must remember that only negotiations between the various protagonists can open the way to a just settlement of the conflicts and offer a glimpse of progress towards the establishment of lasting peace,” the Pontiff emphasized.
Turning to the Great Lakes Region, which “has seen much bloodshed over the years through merciless wars,” the Pope said, “recent positive developments are to be welcomed with interest and hope, especially the conclusion of the period of political transition in Burundi and, more recently, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
“Yet it is urgent that these countries commit themselves to restoring the proper functioning of the rule of law, in order to disarm the warlords and allow society to develop.”
“Finally,” he said, “I should like to mention the Ivory Coast, urging the embattled parties to create a climate of mutual trust that can lead to disarmament and peace. And I should like to speak of Southern Africa: in the countries of this region, millions of people are reduced to a situation of great vulnerability that clamors for the attention and the support of the international community.”
The Holy Father said that among the “positive signs for Africa is the wish expressed by the international community to keep its attention focused on this continent. Likewise, the strengthening of Africa’s continental and regional institutions bears witness to the desire of the countries concerned to take increasing charge of their own destiny.”
The Holy Father began his remarks concerning the Americas by noting that his May trip to Brazil, “gives me the opportunity to turn my attention towards that great country, which awaits me with joy, and towards the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean.”
The Pope pointed out, in general, the region’s “improvement in certain economic indicators, the commitment to combat drug-trafficking and corruption, the various processes of integration, the efforts to improve access to education, to fight unemployment and to reduce inequalities in the distribution of revenues,” as “signs to be viewed with satisfaction.”
“If these developments are consolidated,” the Pope said, “they will be able to make a decisive contribution to overcoming the poverty that afflicts vast sectors of the population and to increasing the stability of institutions.”
Referring to the elections which have taken place in several countries throughout the Americas, the Pope said, “it should be emphasized that democracy is called to take into account the aspirations of the citizens as a whole, and to promote increasing respect for all the components of society, according to the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity and justice.”
“Yet,” he added, “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.”
“My attention,” the Pope continued, “is focused in a special way on certain individual countries – notably Colombia, where the long internal conflict has provoked a humanitarian crisis, especially as far as displaced persons are concerned.”
“Our attention is also turned towards 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,” Pope Benedict said.
“Not far away,” he added, “the people of Haiti continue to live in great poverty surrounded by violence. I pray that the interest of the international community – manifested among other things by the conferences of donors that took place in 2006 – will lead to the consolidation of institutions and will allow the people to become the architects of their own development, amid a climate of reconciliation and harmony.”
Regarding the Asian continent, Pope Benedict spoke first of China and India, “countries that are in rapid expansion, and I hope that their growing presence on the international stage will bring with it benefits for their own populations and for other nations.”
“Likewise,” the Pope said, “I pray for Vietnam, recalling its recent entry into the World Trade Organization.” However, the Holy Father said, “my thoughts go out to the Christian communities. In most Asian countries, they tend to be small but lively communities, with a legitimate desire to be able to live and act in a climate of religious liberty. 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.”
“Dangerous sources of tension are lurking in the Korean Peninsula,” Benedict said. “The goal of reconciling the Korean people and maintaining the Peninsula as a nuclear-free zone – which will bring benefits to the entire region – must be pursued within the context of negotiations. It is important to avoid gestures that could compromise the talks, and likewise to avoid making their results a condition for the humanitarian aid destined for the most vulnerable sectors of the North Korean population.”
“In Afghanistan, in recent months, we can only deplore the notable increase in violence and terrorist attacks,” the Holy Father said. “This has rendered the way out of the crisis more difficult, and it weighs heavily on the local population.”
The entire Middle East, Pope Benedict said, “is also a source of great anxiety.”
“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.”
Calling for a global approach to solutions in the Middle East, the Holy Father said, “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,” Benedict added.
“This trust will grow if a country like Iran, especially in relation to its nuclear program, agrees to give a satisfactory response to the legitimate concerns of the international community. Steps taken in this direction surely help to stabilize 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.”
Speaking of Europe, the Holy Father noted that, “Bulgaria and Romania, nations with a long Christian tradition, have joined the European Union.”
Benedict also expressed his 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.”
In addition to remembering the Christian tradition of Europe, the Pope noted need to “purify” the tensions of the past, “by promoting reconciliation at all levels, since this alone opens the way to the future and gives hope.”
“I also appeal to all those on European soil who are tempted by terrorism, to cease from all such activity: actions of this kind only lead to more violence and create fear among populations – they are simply a dead end. And I must also mention the various ‘frozen conflicts’ and today’s recurring tensions linked to energy resources, in the hope that they will find a rapid and definitive solution,” he said.
The Pope also added his prayers for the Balkan region and expressed is hope that the region, “will arrive at the stability so ardently desired, particularly through the integration of the nations concerned into continental structures with the support of the international community.”
“In her commitment to serve humanity and to build peace,” the Pope concluded, “the Church stands alongside all people of good will and she offers impartial cooperation. Together, each in his place and with his respective gifts, let us work to build an integral humanism which alone can guarantee a world of peace, justice and solidarity.”