VATICAN CITY, JAN. 12, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave today to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. He gave the address in French.
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am always pleased, at the dawn of a new year, to meet with you on the occasion of the traditional exchange of greetings. I am particularly grateful for the good wishes that his Excellency Ambassador Giovanni Galassi expressed to me in your name. My heartfelt gratitude for your noble sentiments as well as the benevolent interest with which you follow daily the activity of the Holy See. Through your persons, I feel close to the peoples you represent. All may rest assured of the prayer and affection of the Pope, who invites them to unite their talents and resources to build together a future of peace and shared prosperity!
This appointment also offers me a privileged occasion to glance, together with you, at the world, exactly as it is shaped by the men and women of this time.
The celebration of Christmas reminds us of God’s tenderness for humanity, manifested in Jesus, and has made resonate once again the ever new message of Bethlehem: “Peace on earth to the men whom the Lord loves!”
This message comes to us this year once again while many peoples continue to experience the consequences of armed struggles, suffer poverty, are victims of scandalous injustices or of pandemics that are difficult to control. His Excellency, Mr. Galassi, has echoed these with the acuity we all recognize in him. For my part, I would like to share with you four convictions that at the beginning of the year 2004 absorb my reflection and prayer.
1. Peace ever threatened
Peace has been damaged these last months by the events that have taken place in the Middle East, which appears, once again, as a region of contrasts and wars.
The numerous steps taken by the Holy See to avoid the painful conflict that occurred in Iraq are known. What is important today is that the international community help the Iraqis, who have freed themselves of a regime that oppressed them, so that they will be able to take up again the reins of their country, to consolidate its sovereignty, to determine democratically a political and economic system in keeping with their aspirations, and that Iraq will return to be a credible member of the international community.
The lack of resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian problem continues to be a factor of permanent de-stabilization for the whole region, without counting the unspeakable sufferings imposed on the Israeli and Palestinian populations. I will never tire of repeating to the leaders of these two nations: The option for arms, the recourse on one hand to terrorism and on the other to reprisals, the humiliation of the adversary, the propaganda of hatred, lead nowhere. Only respect for the legitimate aspirations of one another, the return to the negotiating table, and the concrete commitment of the international community can lead to the beginning of a solution. An authentic and lasting peace cannot be reduced to a simple balance between the forces present; it is above all the fruit of a moral and juridical act.
I could mention other tensions and conflicts, especially in Africa. Their impact on the populations is dramatic. To the effect of violence are added the impoverishment and deterioration of the institutional fabric, making whole nations fall into despair. One should also evoke the danger that the production and trade of arms still represent, which continue to supply these areas in danger.
This morning I would like to render homage in particular to Archbishop Michael Courtney, apostolic nuncio in Burundi, recently killed. Just like all nuncios and all diplomats, he wished to serve above all the cause of peace and dialogue. I pay tribute to his courage and concern to support the Burundian people in their path to peace and greater fraternity, in virtue of his episcopal ministry and of his diplomatic task. Likewise, I recall the memory of Mr. Sergio Viera de Mello, special U.N. representative in Iraq, killed in an attack in the exercise of his mission. I also want to recall all the members of the diplomatic corps who, in the course of the last years, have lost their lives or have had to suffer because of their mandate.
And, how can one not mention the international terrorism that, in sowing fear, hatred, and fanaticism, dishonors all the causes it seeks to serve? I will limit myself to say that every civilization worthy of this name implies the categoric rejection of relations of violence. For this reason, and I say it to an auditorium of diplomats, we can never be resigned to accept passively that violence take peace as hostage!
It is more urgent than ever to return to a more effective collective security that gives to the United Nations the place and role that correspond to it. It is more necessary than ever to learn the lessons of the distant and recent past. In any case, one thing is clear: War does not resolve conflicts between peoples!
2. Faith: force to build peace
Although I will speak here in the name of the Catholic Church, I know that the different Christian confessions and the faithful of other religions consider themselves witnesses of a God of justice and peace.
When we believe that every human person has received from the Creator a unique dignity, that each one of us is the subject of inalienable rights and freedoms, that to serve others is to grow in humanity, and — with greater reason –when one calls oneself a disciple of the One who said: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35), one can clearly understand the capital represented by communities of believers in the construction of a pacified and peaceful world.
Insofar as the Catholic Church is concerned, she puts at the disposition of all the example of her unity and universality, the witness of many saints who have known how to love their enemies, and of many political men who have found in the Gospel the courage to live charity in conflicts. Wherever peace is challenged, there are Christians witnessing with words and deeds that peace is possible. This is the meaning, you know it well, of the interventions of the Holy See in international debates.
3. Religion in society: presence and dialogue
Communities of believers are present in all societies as an expression of the religious dimension of the human person. Therefore, believers legitimately expect to be able to participate in the public dialogue. Unfortunately, it must be said that it is not always like this. We are witnesses, in recent times, in certain countries of Europe, of an attitude that could endanger the effective respect of freedom of religion. Although the whole world is in agreement in respecting the religious sentiment of individuals, the same cannot be said of the “religious event,” namely, the social dimension of religions, when forgetting commitments assumed in the framework of what was then called the “Conference on the Cooperation and Security in Europe.”
Often the principle of secularism is invoked, legitimate in itself, if it is understood as the distinction between the political community and religions (see “Gaudium et Spes,” No. 76). But distinction does not mean ignorance! Secularism is not laicism! It is nothing other than respect for all beliefs on the part of the state, which ensures the free exercise of worship and of spiritual, cultural and charitable activities of the communities of believers.
In a pluralist society, secularism is a place of communication between the different spiritual traditions and the nations. Church-state relations can and must make room for respectful dialogue, which transmits fruitful experiences and values for the future of the nation. A healthy dialogue between the state and the churches — which are not currents, but members — can undoubtedly favor the integral development of the person and the harmony of society.
The difficulty to accept the religious factor in public life has been verified in an emblematic way on the occasion of the recent debate on the Christian roots of Europe. Some have made a re-reading of history through the prism of reductive ideologies, forgetting what Christianity has contributed to the culture and institutions of the continent: the dignity of the human person, freedom, the sense of the universal, the school and university, works of solidarity. Without underestimating the other religious traditions, it is a fact that Europe was established at the same time that it was evangelized. And it is a duty of justice to recall that, until a short time ago, Christians, in promoting the freedom and rights of man, have contributed to the peaceful transformation of authoritarian regimes, as well as to the restoration of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe.
4. Christians, all together, are responsible for the peace and unity of the human family
You know that the ecumenical commitment is one of the interests of my pontificate. In fact, I am convinced that if Christians were able to overcome their divisions, the world would be more solidaristic. For this reason I have always favored joint meetings and declarations, seeing in each one of them an example and stimulus for the unity of the human family.
Christians, we have the responsibility of “the Gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). All of us together can contribute effectively to respect for life, the safeguarding of the dignity of the human person and of his inalienable rights, of social justice and of the preservation of the environment. Moreover, the practice of an evangelical style of life enables Christians to help their fellow human beings to overcome their instincts, to live gestures of understanding and forgiveness, to go out together to assist the needy. Insufficient value is given to the pacifying force that united Christians could have within their own community, as well as within the civil society.
If I say this, it is not only to remind all those who invoke Christ about the urgent need to undertake with resolution the path that leads to unity as Christ wills it, but also to point out to leaders of societies the resources of the Christian heritage and of those who live it to which they can take recourse.
In this area, a concrete example can be mentioned: education in peace. You will have been able to recognize in these words the theme of my Message for the 1st of January of this year. In the light of reason and faith, the Church proposes a pedagogy of peace to prepare better times. She wishes to put at the disposition of all her spiritual energies, convinced that “justice must be complemented with charity” (No. 10). This is what we humbly propose to all men of good will because “we Christians feel, as a characteristic proper to our religion, the duty to form ourselves and other for peace” (No. 3).
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These are the thoughts that I wished to share with you, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, at the beginning of a new year. They have matured before the crib, before Jesus who has shared and loved the life of men. He continues to be contemporary to each one of us and to each one of the nations here represented. I entrust to God in prayer their plans and realizations, and I invoke for you, yourselves, and for your loved ones the abundance of his blessings. Happy New Year!
[Translation by ZENIT]