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Pope outlines multilateral challenges facing world in 2022

11 January 2022


Pope Francis receives members of the diplomatic corps, in the Benediction Hall in the Vatican, on Monday

Pope Francis receives members of the diplomatic corps, in the Benediction Hall in the Vatican, on Monday

THE Pope has warned that multilateral institutions are being weakened by global polarisation, and has urged a return to reliable information and communication in world affairs.

“Multilateral diplomacy has been experiencing a crisis of trust, due to the reduced credibility of social, governmental, and intergovernmental systems — important resolutions, declarations, and decisions are frequently made without a genuine process of negotiation,” the Pope told diplomats on Monday.

“The diminished effectiveness of many international organisations is also due to their members’ entertaining differing visions of the ends they wish to pursue. . . Agendas are increasingly dictated by a mindset that rejects the natural foundations of humanity and the cultural roots that constitute the identity of many peoples.”

He was delivering his New Year address to ambassadors and representatives from 184 countries that have diplomatic ties with the Holy See. “Ideological colonisation”, he said, left no room for free expression, and was currently taking the form of a new “cancel culture”, which impeded reciprocal trust and dialogue “under the guise of defending diversity”.

“A kind of dangerous one-track thinking is taking shape: one constrained to deny history — or, worse yet, to rewrite it in terms of present-day categories, whereas any historical situation must be interpreted in the light of a hermeneutics of that particular time,” the Pope said.

“What is needed instead is a recovery of our sense of shared identity as a single human family. The alternative can only be growing isolation, marked by a reciprocal rejection and refusal that further endangers multilateralism, the diplomatic style that has characterised international relations from the end of the Second World War to the present time.”

The annual papal address to the Vatican diplomatic corps, including representatives of the European Union and the Arab League, is traditionally used to outline the Roman Catholic Church’s key concerns for the coming year.

The Pope said the pandemic had necessitated “reality therapy” for governments at a “grave moment in the life of humanity”, underlining the need for measures to ensure “prevention and immunisation” in the world population.

Health care was a “moral obligation”, requiring responsibility and co-ordination on every level, together with “new models of solidarity” and a “generous sharing” of diagnostic tools, vaccines, and drugs.

“Sadly, we are finding increasingly that we live in a world of strong ideological divides — frequently, people let themselves be influenced by the ideology of the moment, often bolstered by baseless information or poorly documented facts,” the Pope told the meeting.

“The lack of resolute decision-making and clear communication generates confusion, creates mistrust, and undermines social cohesion, fuelling new tensions. The result is a ‘social relativism’ detrimental to harmony and unity.”

The Pope recalled his travels in March 2021 to Iraq, as a “sign of hope after years of war and terrorism”, as well as, in December, to Cyprus and Greece, where he had deepened ties with Orthodox Churches and “experienced the fraternity existing between various Christian confessions” (News, 10 December).

He said that his encounter with migrants on the Aegean island of Lesbos had been a reminder that “we cannot be indifferent or hide behind walls and barbed wire under the pretext of defending security or a style of life.” It was now essential for the EU to achieve “internal cohesion” in its handling of migrants and asylum-seekers.

In an apparent reference to a recent migrant crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border, he said that migrants often became “a weapon of political blackmail, a sort of ‘bargaining commodity’ that deprives them of their dignity”.

Although it is the world’s smallest state, with an official population of just one thousand, spread over just 110 acres, the Holy See has a permanent presence in some 40 international organisations, from the United Nations and its agencies to the Council of Europe and the Organisation of American States.

The RC Church has doubled its worldwide membership in the past three decades to 1.3 billion, and is the world’s largest non-governmental provider of education and health care.

In his address, Pope Francis urged solutions to continuing wars and conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, and Ethiopia, as well as peace between Israel and Palestine, and an end to current crises in Ukraine, Myanmar, and the southern Caucasus.

He said that all had been exacerbated “by the abundance of weapons on hand and the unscrupulousness of those who make every effort to supply them”, and urged further steps to control the spread of nuclear arms and new autonomous weapons systems, or “killer robots”.

While political and constitutional reforms were often required for troubled countries, the Pope said, the imposition of sanctions “should not strike directly at everyday life, in order to provide a glimmer of hope to the general populace, increasingly caught in the grip of poverty”.

He said that he had already spoken in his World Peace Day message on 1 January about the need to provide greater resources in education (News, 7 January). He added that pandemic school closures had driven many young people to seek refuge “in virtual realities that create strong psychological and emotional links but isolate them from others and the world around them, radically modifying social relationships”.

The Pope told the diplomats: “The pandemic has sorely tested the global economy, with serious repercussions on those families and workers who experienced situations of psychological distress even before the onset of the economic troubles; this has further highlighted persistent inequalities.

“In this context, we see even more clearly the importance of labour, since economic development cannot exist without it, nor can it be thought that modern technology can replace the surplus value of human labour. Human labour provides an opportunity for the discovery of our personal dignity, for encounter with others and for human growth; it is a privileged means whereby each person participates actively in the common good and offers a concrete contribution to peace.”

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