VATICAN CITY, DEC. 23, 2005 ( Benedict XVI presented a defense of human life and the family in his welcoming address to the new ambassador of Great Britain to the Holy See.

The new representative of Queen Elizabeth II and her government is Francis Martin-Xavier Campbell, who, at 35, is the youngest British ambassador, and the first Catholic to assume this post. From 2001 to 2003 he was Prime Minister Tony Blair's private secretary.

"Tolerance and respect for difference," said the Pope in his address, "are values that the United Kingdom has done much to promote both within its borders and beyond, and they derive from an appreciation of the innate dignity and the inalienable rights of every human person."

Agreeing with the Northern Irish-born ambassador on "the importance for the United Kingdom of remaining faithful to Europe's rich traditions," the Holy Father explained that "such fidelity naturally involves a profound respect for the truth that God has revealed concerning the human person."

"It requires us to recognize and protect the sanctity of life from the first moment of conception until natural death," he stated. "It requires us to acknowledge the indispensable role of stable marriage and family life for the good of society.

"It obliges us to consider carefully the ethical implications of scientific and technological progress, particularly in the field of medical research and genetic engineering."

God's plan

Benedict XVI continued: "Above all, it directs us toward a proper understanding of human freedom which can never be realized independently of God but only in cooperation with his loving plan for humanity.

"Tolerance and respect for difference, if they are truly to benefit society, need to be built upon the rock of an authentic understanding of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God and called to a share in his divine life."

The Holy Father applauded initiatives such as the British government's International Finance Facility, which he described as "concrete steps to promote the timely realization of the Millennium Development Goals."

"Especially in Africa, many have drawn comfort from the aid resolutions taken at July's Gleneagles summit, when the G-8 Group met under the presidency of Great Britain," the Pontiff said.

"I pray that this effective solidarity with our suffering brothers and sisters will be maintained and deepened in years to come," he stated.

In his address, the Holy Father energetically promoted dialogue with the Anglican church, stating that "ecumenism is not simply an internal matter of concern to Christian communities; it is an imperative of charity which expresses God's love for all humanity and his plan to unite all peoples in Christ."

On Northern Ireland

The Pope also encouraged peace in Northern Ireland, by urging the work of the local churches and ecclesial communities "to overcome historic differences between sections of the population."

"Among the most visible signs of the growth in mutual trust is the recent decommissioning of weapons by the Irish Republican Army," he observed. "This would not have been possible without immense diplomatic and political efforts to achieve a just solution to that long-standing conflict, and it brings great credit upon all who were involved."

Finally, the Pontiff referred to the terrorist bombings that struck London last July, assuring the ambassador of "the continuing support of the Church as you seek solutions to the underlying tensions that give rise to such atrocities."

"The Catholic population in Great Britain is already marked by a high degree of ethnic diversity and is eager to play its part in furthering reconciliation and harmony between the various racial groups present in your country," Benedict XVI said.

"I know," he added, "that Her Majesty's government recognizes the importance of interreligious dialogue, and I welcome the openness that the government has shown towards involving faith communities in the process of integrating the increasingly disparate elements that make up British society."