Build peace by fighting moral and material poverty, the Pope said today as he gathered diplomats from the more than 175 States that the Vatican maintains relations with and offered his assessment of the different situations faced around the globe.
The Holy Father began his annual address to the diplomatic corps by expressing his closeness to all those who have suffered either from natural disasters, such as the earthquakes in China, or from terrorist attacks which have "sown death and destruction in countries like Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Algeria."
The lack of peace around the world, the Pope said, requires that everyone redouble their efforts "on behalf of security and development." Peace, he said, "cannot be built when military expenses divert enormous human and material resources from projects for development, especially the development of the poorest peoples."
The Holy Father then turned to his message for this year's World Day of Peace, which had as its theme "Fighting Poverty To Build Peace." He pointed out that "to build peace, we need to give new hope to the poor."
Giving new hope to the poor, he stressed, must address both the material and moral levels."There is an urgent need to adopt an effective strategy to fight hunger and to promote local agricultural development, all the more so since the number of the poor is increasing even within rich countries. ... On a deeper level, bolstering the economy demands rebuilding confidence. This goal will only be reached by implementing an ethics based on the innate dignity of the human person."
"I know how demanding this will be, yet it is not a utopia!" the Pope reminded.
"Today more than in the past, our future is at stake, as well as the fate of our planet and its inhabitants, especially the younger generation which is inheriting a severely compromised economic system and social fabric."
Building a less impoverished society also requires a healthy incorporation of religion, the Pope said as he reflected on the moral poverty of many societies.
"Moreover, a society which is 'secular' in a healthy way does not ignore the spiritual dimension and its values, since religion - and I thought it helpful to repeat this during my pastoral visit to France - is not an obstacle but rather a solid foundation for the building of a more just and free society."
And yet, this past year is filled with acts of discrimination and "very grave attacks directed at thousands of Christians" the Holy Father noted. These attacks "show to what extent it is not merely material poverty, but also moral poverty, which damages peace. Such abuses, in fact, are rooted in moral poverty."
"Christianity is a religion of freedom and peace," said the Pope, "and it stands at the service of the true good of humanity. To our brothers and sisters who are victims of violence, especially in Iraq and in India, I renew the assurance of my paternal affection; to the civil and political authorities, I urgently request that they be actively committed to ending intolerance and acts of harassment directed against Christians, to repairing the damage which has been done, particularly to the places of worship and properties; and to encouraging by every means possible due respect for all religions, outlawing all forms of hatred and contempt. I also express my hope that, in the Western world, prejudice or hostility against Christians will not be cultivated simply because, on certain questions, their voice causes disquiet."
He encouraged the faithful not to lose heart "in the face of such adversity" because "if the trials and tribulations are painful, the constant presence of Christ is a powerful source of strength. Christ's Gospel is a saving message meant for all; that is why it cannot be confined to the private sphere, but must be proclaimed from the rooftops, to the ends of the earth," he insisted.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict also received attention from Pope Benedict who maintained that "military options are no solution and that violence, wherever it comes from and whatever form it takes, must be firmly condemned." The Pontiff also expressed his hope that, a cease fire will be reached and that "negotiations for peace will resume, with the rejection of hatred, acts of provocation and the use of arms."
Looking ahead to his visit to Africa in March, Pope Benedict called upon the inhabitants of that continent "to welcome the Gospel and to live it consistently, building peace by fighting moral and material poverty." He also said that Africans must focus on protecting children, many of whom have experienced the trauma of being refugees and displaced persons.
The Pope closed his speech to the diplomatic corps by quoting from his Message for this year's World Day of Peace: "The poorest human beings are unborn children. But I cannot not fail to mention, in conclusion, others who are poor, like the infirm, the elderly left to themselves, broken families and those lacking points of reference. Poverty is fought if humanity becomes more fraternal as a result of shared values and ideals, founded on the dignity of the person, on freedom joined to responsibility, on the effective recognition of the place of God in the life of man."