.- This morning at 11 in the Regia Hall, John Paul II met with the members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See for an exchange of New Year's greetings and for his annual "state of the world" address.
Given in French, the Pope's speech was also made available in English, Spanish and Italian. His talk followed greetings by Ambassador Giovanni Galassi of San Marino, dean of the diplomatic corps.
In his welcome, the Pope had special words for the 37 new ambassadors who presented their Letters of Credence during the past year.
He added that his sentiments of joy at today's meeting "are overshadowed, unfortunately, by the enormous catastrophe which on December 26 struck different countries of Southeast Asia and as far as the coasts of East Africa.
It made for a painful ending of the year just past: a year troubled also by other natural calamities, such as the devastating cyclones in the Indian Ocean and the Antilles, and the plague of locusts which desolated vast regions of Northwest Africa.â
Other tragedies also cast a shadow on 2004, like the acts of barbarous terrorism which caused bloodshed in Iraq and other countries of the world, the savage attack in Madrid, the terrorist massacre in Beslan, the inhuman acts of violence inflicted on the people of Darfur, the atrocities perpetrated in the Great Lakes region of Africa."
The Holy Father told the diplomats that their presence "immediately sets before our eyes the great tableau of humanity with its grave and troubling problems and its great and undampened hopes.â
He said that âThe Catholic Church, because of her universal nature, is always directly engaged in the great causes for which the men and women of our age struggle and hope."
He then quoted his Message for World Day of Peace 2005, saying its theme - "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good" - was the message he wished to leave them today because it "has a specific application to international relations, and it can be a guide to all in meeting the great challenges facing humanity today," principally the challenge of life, the challenge of food, the challenge of peace and that of freedom.
The Churchâs Task to Promote Life
Regarding the challenge of life, Pope John Paul said: "The Church is called to proclaim 'the Gospel of Life'.â
He added that âthe State has as its primary task precisely the safeguarding and promotion of human life. ... Conflicting views have been put forward regarding abortion, assisted procreation, the use of human embryonic stem cells for scientific research, and cloning.â
âThe Church's position,â he said, âsupported by reason and science, is clear: the human embryo is a subject identical to the human being which will be born at the term of its development. Consequently whatever violates the integrity and the dignity of the embryo is ethically inadmissible.â
âSimilarly, any form of scientific research which treats the embryo merely as a laboratory specimen is unworthy of man."
There is also a challenge to the family, he said, noting that today "the family is often threatened by social and cultural pressures which tend to undermine its stability; but in some countries the family is also threatened by legislation which - at times directly - challenge its natural structure, which is and must necessarily be that of a union between a man and a woman founded on marriage."
The Challenge to Feed the Nations
On the challenge of food, the Pope stated: "This world, made wondrously fruitful by its Creator, possesses a sufficient quantity and variety of food for all its inhabitants, now and in the future. Yet the statistics on world hunger are dramatic: hundreds of millions of human beings are suffering from grave malnutrition, and each year millions of children die of hunger or its effects."
âMuch has been done,â he added, "yet all this is not enough. An adequate response to this need, which is growing in scale and urgency, calls for a vast moral mobilization of public opinion; the same applies all the more to political leaders, especially in those countries enjoying a sufficient or even prosperous standard of living."
Peace- the âDream of Every Generationâ
Turning to the challenge of peace, the Holy Father pointed out that "peace is the dream of every generation. Yet how many wars and armed conflicts continue to take place - between States, ethnic groups, peoples and groups living in the same territory.â
âFrom one end of the world to the other, they are claiming countless innocent victims and spawning so many other evils!â
âIn addition to these tragic evilsâ, he said, âthere is the brutal, inhuman phenomenon of terrorism, a scourge which has taken on a global dimension unknown to previous generations.â
"Like my venerable predecessors," he affirmed, "I have spoken out countless times, in public statements - especially in my annual Message for the World Day of Peace - and through the Holy See's diplomatic activity, and I shall continue to do so, pointing out the paths to peace and urging that they be followed with courage and patience.
The arrogance of power must be countered with reason, force with dialogue, pointed weapons with outstretched hands, evil with good."
He said that "there are some encouraging signs that the great challenge of building peace can be met," especially in Africa and the Middle East, adding that "certainly an outstanding example of the possibility of peace can be seen in Europe: nations which were once fierce enemies locked in deadly wars are now members of the European Union."
"God loves mankind, and he wants peace for all men and women. We are asked to be active instruments of that peace, and to overcome evil with good."
âAll Human Beings Born Freeâ
Pope John Paul then turned to the challenge of freedom, telling the diplomats: "All of you know how important this is to me, especially because of the history of my native people, yet it is also important to each of you. ... â
âYet freedom is first and foremost a right of each individual.â
âAs the Universal Declaration of Human Rights fittingly states in Article 1 - 'all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights'. Article 3 goes on to state that 'everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person'. Certainly the freedom of States is also sacred; they need to be free, above all so that they can carry out adequately their fundamental duty of safeguarding both the life and the freedom of their citizens in all their legitimate manifestations.â
"At the very heart of human freedom is the right to religious freedom, since it deals with man's most fundamental relationship: his relationship with God. ...â
âIn many States, freedom of religion is a right which is not yet sufficiently or adequately recognized. ...â
âConsequently I repeat today an appeal which the Church has already made on numerous occasions: 'It is necessary that religious freedom be everywhere provided with an effective constitutional guarantee, and that respect be shown for the high duty and right of man freely to lead his religious life in society'.â
"There need be no fear that legitimate religious freedom would limit other freedoms or be injurious to the life of civil society. On the contrary: together with religious freedom, all other freedoms develop and thrive. ...â
âNeither should there be a fear that religious freedom, once granted to the Catholic Church, would intrude upon the realm of political freedom and the competencies proper to the State: the Church is able carefully to distinguish, as she must, what belongs to Caesar from what belongs to God."