.- Following a year marred by war and terrorism, Pope Francis told diplomats Monday that for 2017, peace has to be more than just an idea or a nice theory, but must be actively pursued with concrete policies aimed at promoting the common good and the dignity of the human person.
“Peace is a positive good...it is more than the absence of war. Nor can it be reduced to the maintenance of a balance of power between opposing forces,” the Pope said Jan. 9. Instead, peace “demands the commitment of those persons of good will who thirst for an ever more perfect reign of justice.”
While some nations seem to take for granted long periods of peace enjoyed since the close of the First World War, for millions of others peace “remains merely a distant dream.”
“Millions of people still live in the midst of senseless conflicts,” he said, noting that we are frequently bombarded “by images of death, by the pain of innocent men, women and children,” as well as by the grief of those who have lost loved ones due to violence and the “drama” of forced migration.
In the current global climate of fear, apprehension, uncertainty and anxiety for both the present and future, “a word of hope” is needed, he said, which is capable of indicating a path on which to move forward.
Pope Francis spoke to the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See as part of his traditional exchange of New Year’s greetings with the diplomats. There are currently 182 ambassadors of other countries to the Holy See, 88 of whom reside in Rome.
For the Pope, part of the peace-building process means eradicating the causes of violence and injustice, one of which is the “deplorable arms trade and the never-ending race to create and spread ever more sophisticated weaponry,” which he has frequently condemned.
In his speech, Francis said that one “particularly disturbing” example of negative effects of the arms trade “are the experiments being conducted on the Korean Peninsula.”
The nuclear tests that are continually being conducted there “destabilize the entire region and raise troubling questions for the entire international community about the risk of a new nuclear arms race,” he said.
Quoting St. John XXIII, the Pope stressed that “justice, right reason and the recognition of human dignity cry out insistently for a cessation to the arms race.”
“The stockpiles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced all round by the parties concerned. Nuclear weapons must be banned,” he said, adding that the Holy See seeks to promote “an ethics of peace and security that goes beyond that fear and closure which condition the debate on nuclear weapons.”
Francis also threw in what seemed to be a plug for tighter gun control. Turning to the sale of conventional weapons, he said that easy access to arms, “including those of small caliber,” not only “aggravates various conflicts, but also generates a widespread sense of insecurity and fear.”
“This is all the more dangerous in times, like our own, of social uncertainty and epochal changes,” he said.
On the topic of different forms of fundamentalism that have gripped the global scene over the past year, the Pope said that when it comes to religion, “every expression of religion is called to promote peace.”
“There has been no shortage of acts of religiously motivated violence, beginning with Europe itself, where the historical divisions between Christians have endured all too long,” he said, noting that healing the wounds of the past means above all “journeying together toward common goals” on a path of genuine dialogue.
However, he noted that “sadly” religion has been used as “a pretext for rejection, marginalization and violence.”
Over the past year, fundamentalist terrorism “has also reaped numerous victims throughout the world,” he said, pointing to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, the United States of America, Tunisia and Turkey as just a few examples.
“We are dealing with a homicidal madness which misuses God’s name in order to disseminate death, in a play for domination and power,” the Pope said, renewing his appeal for all religious authorities “to join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God’s name.”
“Fundamentalist terrorism is the fruit of a profound spiritual poverty, and often is linked to significant social poverty,” he said, noting that the only way for it to be fully defeated is with “the joint contribution of religious and political leaders.”
Pope Francis insisted that political authorities ought to focus not just on the security of their own citizens, “a concept which could easily be reduced to a mere ‘quiet life,’” but are also concerned with working “actively” for the growth of peace on a global level.
Peace, he said, “is an active virtue, one that calls for the engagement and cooperation of each individual and society as a whole.”
Turning to the Jubilee of Mercy, Francis said part of building “a culture of mercy” means eliminating indifference and striving to become societies that “are open and welcoming toward foreigners and at the same time internally secure and at peace.”
“This is all the more needed at the present time, when massive waves of migration continue in various parts of the world,” he said, calling for a “common commitment” to offering migrants and displaced persons “a dignified welcome.”
On the topic of migrants, the Pope stressed that respect must be given both right of every person to migrate while at the same time ensuring that incoming foreigners are fully integrated into their new society without feeling “their security, cultural identity and political-social stability are threatened.”
However, he also said incoming migrants must “not forget that they have a duty to respect the laws, culture and traditions of the countries in which they are received.”
For public authorities to have prudence “does not mean enacting policies of exclusion vis-à-vis migrants,” but rather entails “evaluating, with wisdom and foresight, the extent to which their country is in a position, without prejudice to the common good of citizens, to offer a decent life to migrants, especially those truly in need of protection,” he said.
The issue of migration isn’t one that just some countries have to face while others are indifferent, he said, stressing that “all should feel responsible” for pursuing international policies aimed at promoting solidarity and the common good.
Pope Francis then voiced his thanks to the countries who have taken on the bulk of the burden of the migration crisis, naming Italy, Germany, Greece and Sweden in particular.
He called for a quick and peaceful resolution to the “brutal conflict” in Syria, asking the international community “to make every effort to encourage serious negotiations for an end to the conflict, which is causing a genuine human catastrophe.”
“Each of the parties must give priority to international humanitarian law, and guarantee the protection of civilians and needed humanitarian aid for the populace,” he said, voicing his hope that the recently-signed truce “will be a sign of hope for the whole Syrian people, so greatly in need of it.”
The Pope also urged swift resolutions to the conflicts in Ukraine, Iran and Yemen, and renewed his appeal for Israel and Palestine to resume dialogue aimed at “a stable and enduring solution that guarantees the peaceful coexistence of two states within internationally recognized borders.”
“No conflict can become a habit impossible to break. Israelis and Palestinians need peace. The whole Middle East urgently needs peace!”
Francis closed his speech saying peace is “a gift, a challenge and a commitment.” True peace, he said, “can only come about on the basis of a vision of human beings capable of promoting an integral development respectful of their transcendent dignity.”
“This, then, is my prayerful hope for the year just begun: that our countries and their peoples may find increased opportunities to work together in building true peace.”
He reaffirmed the commitment on the part of the Holy See and the Secretariat of State, saying they will “always be ready to cooperate with those committed to ending current conflicts and to offer support and hope to all who suffer.”