Pope Benedict XVI’s message for the World Day of Peace was made public today by the Vatican. In his message, which is written in advance of the January 1st Day of Peace, the Holy Father calls for an increased respect for human dignity and rights, based on a renewed understanding of natural law, to combat the growing threats of terrorism and violence.
"As one created in the image of God,” the Pope says, “each individual human being has the dignity of a person; he or she is not just something, but someone, capable of self-knowledge, self-possession, free self-giving and entering into communion with others."
All people, regardless of their respective cultures, have a “call to carry out faithfully the universal divine plan inscribed in the nature of human beings,” the Pope states in his extensive message.
“Recognition and respect for natural law represents the foundation for a dialogue between the followers of the different religions and between believers and non-believers,” he continues. “As a great point of convergence, this is also a fundamental presupposition for authentic peace."
The Holy Father affirms that each human being reflects the image of God in their nature and as such the dignity of each person should be respected. “The Church,” he says, “champions the fundamental rights of each person,” placing particular emphasis on respecting the life and religious freedom of everyone.
Life and religious liberty
“The right to life and to the free expression of personal faith in God is not subject to the power of man,” he states.
The Holy Father notes several ways that the right to life is attacked. Along with the scourge of armed conflicts, terrorism, and various forms of violence, he said, “there are the silent deaths caused by hunger, abortion, experimentation on human embryos, and euthanasia,” which must be seen as an “attack on peace.”
“Abortion and embryonic experimentation constitute a direct denial of that attitude of acceptance of others which is indispensable for establishing lasting relationships of peace,” he emphasizes.
Pope Benedict also points out the oppression of religious freedom which still exists in the world, decrying the persecution of Christians in “some states as” well as the recent reports of “tragic cases of ferocious violence,” against Christians.
In addition to criticizing, “regimes that impose a single religion upon everyone,” the Pope also mentions the power of “secular regimes,” which “often lead not so much to violent persecution as to systematic cultural denigration of religious beliefs.”
Another threat to peace can be found in the inequalities which still exist in the world, even in the fundamental areas of food, water, shelter, and health, the Pope adds, remarking also on the continued inequality between men and women in the exercise of basic human rights. “There can be no illusion of a secure peace until these forms of discrimination are also overcome, since they injure the personal dignity impressed by the Creator upon every human being,” he said.
War and international law
Despite cultural and religious differences, the Holy Father states, there is one point, “which must be clearly reaffirmed: war in God's name is never acceptable!”
Benedict encourages adherence to international humanitarian law, established through the recognition of the existence of “inalienable human rights connected to our common human nature,” and criticizes recent situations, such as the one in Lebanon, in which the “duty to protect and help innocent victims and to avoid involving the civilian population was largely ignored.”
“The new shape of conflicts, especially since the terrorist threat unleashed completely new forms of violence, demand that the international community reaffirm international humanitarian law, and apply it to all present-day situations of armed conflict, including those not currently provided for by international law,” the Pope says.
“Increasingly,” Benedict recognizes, “wars are not declared, especially when they are initiated by terrorist groups determined to attain their ends by any means available. In the face of the disturbing events of recent years, States cannot fail to recognize the need to establish clearer rules to counter effectively the dramatic decline that we are witnessing."
He also criticizes the desire of some nations to develop nuclear weapons, encouraging all nations to sign international non-proliferation accords and to commit themselves to seeking the reduction and definitive dismantling, of currently existing weapons, adding, “the fate of the whole human family is at stake!”
In addition to an increased respect for humanity, the Pontiff also emphasizes the need for an increased respect for nature.
“Humanity, if it truly desires peace, must be increasingly conscious of the links between natural ecology, or respect for nature, and human ecology,” the Pope adds. “Experience shows that disregard for the environment always harms human coexistence, and vice versa.”
“The destruction of the environment, its improper or selfish use, and the violent hoarding of the earth's resources cause grievances, conflicts and wars, precisely because they are the consequences of an inhumane concept of development,” he confirms.
Christ our peace
"Finally,” he concludes, “I wish to make an urgent appeal to the People of God: let every Christian be committed to tireless peace-making and strenuous defense of the dignity of the human person and his inalienable rights. ... In Christ we can find the ultimate reason for becoming staunch champions of human dignity and courageous builders of peace."
Click here for the full text of Pope Benedict's message.