VATICAN CITY, JAN. 10, 2005 ( Life, food, peace and freedom are the four urgent challenges now facing humanity, according to John Paul II.

The Pope highlighted these challenges in a full analysis of the international situation, during his traditional new-year meeting today with ambassadors of the countries that have full diplomatic relations with the Holy See. The envoys, from 174 countries, were joined by representatives of the European Union, Russia, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Order of Malta.

In his long address delivered in French, the Holy Father mentioned first of all "the challenge of life … the first gift which God has given us," whose safeguarding and promotion is the "primary task" of the state.

"The challenge to life has grown in scale and urgency in recent years," he said. "It has involved particularly the beginning of human life, when human beings are at their weakest and most in need of protection.

"Conflicting views have been put forward regarding abortion, assisted procreation, the use of human embryonic stem cells for scientific research, and cloning."

"The Church's position, supported by reason and science, is clear," the Pope told his listeners. "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."

"Any form of scientific research which treats the embryo merely as a laboratory specimen is unworthy of man," the Holy Father affirmed.

"Scientific research in the field of genetics needs to be encouraged and promoted, but, like every other human activity, it can never be exempt from moral imperatives; research using adult stem cells, moreover, offers the promise of considerable success," he said.

The challenge to defend life, John Paul II continued, also implies the defense of "the very sanctuary of life: the family."

"In some countries the family is also threatened by legislation which -- at times directly -- challenges its natural structure, which is and must necessarily be that of union between a man and a woman founded on marriage," he noted.

"The family, as a fruitful source of life and a fundamental and irreplaceable condition for the happiness of the individual spouses, for the raising of children and for the well-being of society, and indeed for the material prosperity of the nation, must never be undermined by laws based on a narrow and unnatural vision of man," he warned.


The second challenge highlighted by John Paul II is that of food, in reference to the "hundreds of millions of human beings suffering from grave malnutrition" and the "million of children" who every year "die of hunger or its effects."

The Pontiff acknowledged that there are encouraging initiatives in this connection, from international organizations and states and civil society.

"Yet all this is not enough," he said. "An adequate response to this need, which is growing in scale and urgency, calls for a vast 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."

John Paul II backed his proposal by mentioning "the principle of the universal destination of the earth's goods," a principle which "cannot be used to justify collectivist forms of economic policy" but "should serve to advance a radical commitment to justice and a more attentive and determined display of solidarity. This is the good which can overcome the evil of hunger and unjust poverty."


"Peace" was the third challenge mentioned in the papal address.

"How many wars and armed conflicts," the Pope lamented, "continue to take place -- between states, ethnic groups, peoples and groups living in the same territory. From one end of the world to the other, they are claiming countless innocent victims and spawning so many other evils!"

The Holy Father mentioned the conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America "where recourse to arms and violence has not only led to incalculable material damage, but also fomented hatred and increased causes of tension."

"In addition to these tragic evils there is the brutal, inhuman phenomenon of terrorism, a scourge which has taken on a global dimension unknown to previous generations," he said.

"How can the great challenge of building peace overcome such evils?" he asked the Ambassadors. "I shall continue" to speak out, "pointing out the paths of 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."

"Bringing about an authentic and lasting peace in this violence-filled world calls for a power of peace that does not shrink before difficulties. It is a power that human beings on their own cannot obtain or preserve: It is a gift from God," he noted.


Lastly, the Pontiff mentioned the "challenge of freedom," in particular, that of religious freedom, after a year that has witnessed in numerous countries a lively debate about the concept of secularism.

"There need be no fear that legitimate religious freedom would limit other freedoms or be injurious to the life of civil society," he contended. "On the contrary: together with religious freedom, all other freedoms develop and thrive, inasmuch as freedom is an indivisible good, the prerogative of the human person and his dignity.

"Neither 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," the Holy Father said. "She asks only for freedom, so that she can effectively cooperate with all public and private institutions concerned with the good of mankind."

The Holy Father read the first and last paragraphs of his long address and allowed one of his aides to read the rest. He expressed personally cordial wishes for the New Year to the ambassadors and their spouses who approached him.