Vatican Defends Participation in Durban II

Iranian President’s Declarations Called «Unacceptable»

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 21, 2009 ( A Vatican spokesman says the Holy See is attending this week’s U.N. conference against racism to promote worldwide efforts to stop this type of discrimination.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, spoke Monday evening to Vatican Radio about the Durban Review Conference.

The conference, under way through Friday in Geneva, Switzerland, is being boycotted by 10 countries that claim the symposium is promoting precisely those attitudes it is supposed to oppose.

The conference was called to evaluate progress toward the goals set by a 2001 conference against racism, xenophobia and related intolerance in Durban, South Africa.

However, the first speaker on the opening day Monday was Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who spoke against what he called the «Zionist regime» and said the Holocaust was «dubious.»

Father Lombardi called this declaration «unacceptable,» saying that if the president did not go to the extreme of denying the Holocaust or outright affirming that Israel should not exist as a state, he still made «extremist and unacceptable» comments.

The Vatican spokesman nevertheless affirmed: «The [U.N.] conference is in itself an important occasion to promote the fight against racism and intolerance. With these intentions, the Holy See is participating, and aims to support the effort of international institutions to take steps in this direction.»

Father Lombardi noted that a majority of countries are participating in the conference and that the draft agenda «in itself, is acceptable, since the principal elements that had caused objections were taken out.»

The Jesuit declared that it is important to «go on clearly affirming respect for the dignity of the human person, against all racism and intolerance.»

«We hope that the conference can still serve to reach this objective,» he said. «This is certainly the reason for the commitment of the Holy See delegation to continue in its working sessions.»

Clear message

Today, the Holy See reiterated Father Lombardi’s comments with a press statement.

The declaration noted: «[The Vatican] press office wishes to recall the words of Pope Benedict XVI, who said last Sunday: ‘I express heartfelt prayers that the delegates present at the Geneva Conference will work together, in a spirit of dialogue and mutual acceptance, so as to put an end to every form of racism, discrimination and intolerance, thereby marking a fundamental step towards the affirmation of the universal value of human dignity and human rights, within a framework of respect and justice for every person and every people.'»

The statement went on to say that the Holy See «deplores the use of this United Nations forum for the adoption of political positions, of an extremist and offensive nature, against any state.»

«This does not contribute to dialogue and it provokes an unacceptable atmosphere of conflict,» it added. «What is needed, instead, is to make good use of this important opportunity to engage in dialogue together, according to the line of action that the Holy See has always adopted, with a view to effectively combating the racism and intolerance that still today affect children, women, those of African descent, migrants, indigenous peoples etc. in every part of the world. The Holy See, in renewing the Pope’s appeal, reiterates that its own delegation at the conference is working in this spirit.»

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