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Pope sets out priorities to Holy See diplomats

11 January 2024


Pope Francis greets the members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, in the Sistine Chapel, on Monday

Pope Francis greets the members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, in the Sistine Chapel, on Monday

THE Pope has called on governments to prevent the deliberate targeting of civilians in war, in a New Year address that included calls for a ban on surrogacy and human cloning, as well as condemnations of gender theory and of rising anti-religious persecution.

“Modern wars no longer take place only on clearly defined battlefields, nor do they involve soldiers alone; in a context where the distinction between military and civil objectives is no longer respected, there is no conflict that does not end up in some way indiscriminately striking the civilian population,” he said on Monday.

He was delivering his annual address to ambassadors from 184 countries that have diplomatic ties with the Holy See.

“We must not forget that grave violations of international humanitarian law are war crimes: it is not sufficient to point them out, but also necessary to prevent them.”

The “suffering and mutilation” of civilian victims during wars in Ukraine and Gaza, far from being mere “collateral damage”, showed, the Pope said, “war for what it is: nothing other than an immense tragedy, a useless slaughter”.

Manufacturing and possessing nuclear weapons remained immoral, he said, and resources saved from being “misdirected to weaponry” should be used for a global fund to eliminate hunger and to promote sustainable development.

“It is illusory to think that weapons have deterrent value — the contrary is true: availability of weapons encourages their use and increases their production,” he said.

“To pursue peace, however, it is not enough simply to eliminate the implements of war; its root causes must be eradicated. Foremost among these is hunger, a scourge that continues to afflict entire areas of our world, while others are marked by a massive waste of food. Then there is the exploitation of natural resources, which enriches a few while leaving entire populations, the natural beneficiaries of these resources, in a state of destitution and poverty.”

The part played by the Vatican internationally, he said, was to offer a “prophetic voice and appeal to consciences”, at a time when peace appeared “increasingly threatened”, and when a current “third world war fought piecemeal” risked turning into “a genuine global conflict”.

While vigorously condemning the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel, he said that Israel’s military response had also caused “inconceivable suffering”, and he called for “a ceasefire on every front”, accompanied by the “immediate liberation” of hostages, and aid and protection for Palestinians.

The Pope listed continued instability in Syria and Lebanon, and renewed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as conflicts in Myanmar, Ethiopia, and Sudan, and tensions in Venezuela, Peru, and Nicaragua.

Humanitarian crises in sub-Saharan Africa had been worsened by “international terrorism, complex social political problems, and the devastating effects of climate change”, as well as by recent military coups and “electoral processes marked by corruption, intimidation, and violence”, he said.

While he hoped that December’s COP28 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, agreed in Dubai, would be an “encouraging step” towards “ecological transition”, thousands were still being driven from their homes by the mistreatment and exploitation of natural resources.

“To be sure, there are disasters that human beings cannot control. . . Yet there are also disasters that are attributable to human activity or neglect, and contribute seriously to the current climate crisis, such as the deforestation of the Amazon, the ‘green lung’ of the earth,” he told the diplomats.

“We need to insist on the right of people to remain in their homeland, and the corresponding need to create conditions for the effective exercise of this right. In confronting this challenge, no country should be left alone, nor can any country think of addressing the issue in isolation.”

The Roman Catholic Church, growing by about 16 million yearly, currently has 1.376 billion members worldwide, according to its 2023 Annuario Pontificio (Pontifical Year Book), and is the world’s largest non-governmental provider of education and health care.

In 2023, Oman became the latest country to open official ties with the Holy See, while Vietnam became the latest of many hosting a nuncio, or representative, of the Vatican, which also has a permanent presence in 40 international organisations, including the United Nations and its agencies.

The Pope said that peace depended on respect “for every human life, starting with the life of the unborn child”, and called for an international ban on the “deplorable practice” of surrogate motherhood, as well as on human cloning and the patenting of human biological material.

“At every moment of its existence, human life must be preserved and defended; yet I note with regret, especially in the West, the continued spread of a culture of death, which in the name of a false compassion discards children, the elderly, and the sick.

“In recent decades, attempts have been made to introduce new rights that are neither fully consistent with those originally defined nor always acceptable. They have led to instances of ideological colonisation, in which gender theory plays a central role; the latter is extremely dangerous, since it cancels differences in its claim to make everyone equal.”

Pope Francis said that structures of multilateral diplomacy, established after the Second World War, had weakened as “ideological polarisation and exploitation” fuelled dangers of paralysis.

The exemplary 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended violence in Northern Ireland, should, he said, “motivate and encourage authorities to trust in peace processes, whatever the hardships and sacrifices”.

As crucial elections were being held in many countries this year, the way to peace ran through dialogue and education, the Pope said, as well as the ethical use of new technologies respecting the “centrality of the human person”, and steps to ensure that machines, algorithms, and artificial intelligence did not obstruct “interpersonal relations, a healthy spirit of fraternity, critical thinking, and a capacity for discernment”, especially among young people.

The Pope also warned against a rising “scourge of anti-Semitism” and anti-Christian movements, noting that more than 360 million Christians worldwide now also faced “discrimination and persecution because of their faith”.

“Interreligious dialogue requires before all else the protection of religious freedom and respect for minorities,” he continued. “It is painful to note that an increasing number of countries are adopting models of centralised control over religious freedom, especially by the massive use of technology.

“In other places, minority religious communities often find themselves in increasingly precarious situations — in some cases, risking extinction, due to a combination of terrorism, attacks on their cultural heritage, and more subtle measures, such as anti-conversion laws, manipulation of electoral rules and financial restrictions.”

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