Pope Benedict gave a wide-ranging address to a group of ambassadors and diplomats that urged an end to the “slaughter” in Syria and stressed the “grave responsibility” to work for peace around the word.
On Jan. 7, ambassadors and diplomats from nearly 180 countries gathered in the Apostolic Palace’s Sala Regia to hear the Pope’s traditional address to members of the diplomatic corps who are accredited to the Holy See.
The Pope lamented the “dreadful suffering” of civilians in Syria, a country he said is “torn apart by endless slaughter.”
“I renew my appeal for a ceasefire and the inauguration as quickly as possible of a constructive dialogue aimed at putting an end to a conflict which will know no victors but only vanquished if it continues, leaving behind it nothing but a field of ruins,” the Pope said Monday.
He asked that the officials alert their respective countries to help make essential aid available for the “grave humanitarian situation” in Syria.
At least 60,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in the 21-month conflict between the government and rebel forces.
Pope Benedict also voiced “deep concern” about the Holy Land. With the United Nations’ recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state, he said, he hoped that Israelis and Palestinians will “commit themselves to peaceful coexistence” in a framework of “two sovereign states.”
“Jerusalem, become what your name signifies! A city of peace and not of division; a prophecy of the Kingdom of God and not a byword for instability and opposition!” he said.
The Pope said that peace must be “nourished and protected by charity” and that charity is “at the heart” of the Holy See’s diplomatic activity. He noted the Catholic Church’s disaster relief work, her social assistance to the needy and her educational institutions.
The Pope emphasized that peace is built through the protection of human beings and their fundamental rights.
“This task, even if carried out in many ways and with varying degrees of intensity, challenges all countries and must constantly be inspired by the transcendent dignity of the human person and the principles inscribed in human nature,” he said.
He named respect for life as the “foremost” principle. He praised the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s call for the prohibition of euthanasia, but he noted “with dismay” efforts to introduce legislation that would allow or expand abortion.
He said vigilance is needed to ensure that a country’s laws do not “unjustly alter the balance between the right to life of the mother and that of the unborn child, a right belonging equally to both.”
Pope Benedict’s address touched on several other regions of concern.
He told the diplomats of his hope for “reconciliation” and stability in Iraq. Turning to Lebanon, he asked that the religious traditions there be “cultivated by all” and that the country’s Christians be effective witnesses for peace.
For North Africa, Pope Benedict asked for full citizenship and religious liberty for all members of society. He assured Egyptians of his prayers as they build new institutions in a period of political upheaval.
He encouraged peacemaking in sub-Saharan Africa, citing the violence and the displacement of people in the Horn of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He lamented the regular terrorist attacks on Christians in Nigeria. He voiced hope that peace talks in the Central African Republic will prevent a return to civil war.
The violent social crisis in Mali, where Islamist militants have taken control of the country’s north, “calls for the effective attention of the international community,” he said.
Pope Benedict’s address also noted the need for economic development and investment in education to help overcome poverty, disease and social inequality.
The Holy See has long been a center for diplomacy and international relations. It has full diplomatic relations with 179 states, the European Union and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. It also has permanent observer status at the United Nations.