Pope Francis calls on the world's governments for peace and an openness to refugees

Pope Francis leads an audience with the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See for the traditional exchange of new year's greetings at the Vatican Jan. 9. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout)

In his New Year’s greeting to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See*, Pope Francis focused on the theme of peace and security in today’s world and indicated ways in which it can be achieved.

In a 45-minute address, he called for renewed efforts to resolve the many conflicts in today’s world. He emphasized that religion can make an important contribution to peace and affirmed that terrorism can be totally defeated if religious and political leaders play their part.

The pope’s traditional address to the diplomatic corps is one of the most closely watched events at the start of every new year. Ambassadors from 182 of the 193 member states of the United Nations attended this year’s event, including U.S. ambassador Ken Hackett who was here for the last time; he departs on Jan. 20. As in previous years, China and Saudi Arabia were the notable absentees.

Francis said he decided to focus on the theme of security and peace because of “the general climate of apprehension for the present and of uncertainty and anguish for the future, in which we find ourselves immersed.”

He recalled that in 1917, the world was at war and totalitarian regimes were emerging. Today, while many parts of the world enjoy peace and unprecedented well-being, “millions still live at the center of senseless conflicts” and for them peace remains “a distant dream.”

For Christians, Francis said, peace is not just the absence of war or the balance of forces but a positive good, “a gift of God.”

He expressed his conviction that “every expression of religion is called to promote peace,” but acknowledged that down the centuries “there has been no shortage of religiously motivated violence,” beginning with Europe and the historical divisions between Christians. Even today, he observed, “religious experience, rather than fostering openness to others, can be used at times as a pretext for closing, marginalization and violence.”

The pope denounced this fundamentalist terrorism as “a homicidal madness which misuses the name of God to disseminate death, in a play for domination and power.” He appealed to “all religious authorities to join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God’s name.” Describing “fundamentalist terrorism” as “the fruit of a profound spiritual misery, that is often linked to significant social poverty,” Francis said, “it can only be fully defeated with the joint contribution of religious and political leaders.”

He said the task of religious leaders is “to transmit those religious values that do not separate the fear of God from love of neighbor,” while those who govern “are responsible for ensuring that conditions do not exist that become fertile terrain for the spreading of fundamentalism.” This requires combatting poverty, supporting families and making significant investments in education and culture. Moreover, political authorities “should not just limit themselves to guaranteeing the security of their own citizens”; they must also work actively for the growth of peace, and this involves eliminating “the causes of discord that foment wars, beginning with injustices.”

Peace-making, he said, requires promoting “a culture of mercy...in which no one looks at the other with indifference nor turns his face away when he sees the suffering of his brothers and sisters.” This is particularly necessary today as “massive waves of migration” are taking place in parts of Africa, southeast Asia and the Middle East.

He called for a common commitment to the plight of migrants and refugees that offers them a “dignified welcome.” Aware of resistance to this in many countries, he said that a prudent approach to accepting migrants entails “evaluating, with wisdom and foresight, the extent to which their country is in a position, without prejudice to the common good of its citizens, to offer a decent life to migrants and especially those truly in need of protection.”

To work for peace, he said, means “working for the elimination of the deplorable arms trade and the never-ending race to create and spread ever more sophisticated weaponry. Recalling the recent missile tests by North Korea, he warned against the risk of a new nuclear arms race and called for banning nuclear weapons.

He denounced as “an enemy of peace” the “ideology that exploits social unrest to foment contempt and hate, and views others as enemies to be annihilated.” He noted with sadness that “new ideologies constantly appear on the horizon of humanity” that promise great benefits for the people but leave behind “a trail of poverty, divisions, social tensions, suffering and sometimes death.”

Pope Francis declared that “peace triumphs by solidarity,” which “generates the desire for dialogue and cooperation” and finds a fundamental instrument in diplomacy. He explained that “mercy and solidarity” inspire the efforts of the Holy See and the Catholic Church “to avert conflicts and to accompany processes of peace, reconciliation and the search for negotiated solutions.” He cited as examples its work with others to achieve rapprochement between Cuba and the United States and to end the conflict in Colombia.

This approach “aims at encouraging reciprocal trust, supporting processes of dialogue and emphasizing the need for courageous gestures,” he said, and it is urgently needed in Venezuela, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. He appealed to the international community “to make every effort to encourage serious negotiations” for an end to the conflict in Syria.

He appealed to Israelis and Palestinians to resume negotiations and work for a lasting peace that involves a two-state solution. He encouraged efforts at the national and international levels to ensure peaceful coexistence in Sudan, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. He hoped the recently-signed agreement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo would lead to reconciliation and peace. He appealed to the international community to help Myanmar overcome its problems. He welcomed the negotiations for the reunification of Cyprus that started today and called for the accords reached in Minsk for peace in the Ukraine to be fully implemented.

Turning to Europe, Francis said it is at “a decisive moment” and needs to rediscover its identity by returning to its roots and thus can respond to “the currents of divisiveness” that are putting its unity in danger.

He concluded by reminding the ambassadors and their governments that “to build peace also means to work actively for the care of creation.” He hailed the Paris climate accord as an important sign of this commitment and expressed the hope that “the efforts made in recent times to respond to climate change will meet with increased cooperation on the part of all, for the earth is our common home, and we need to realize that the choices of each have consequences for all.”

Correction, Jan. 9: Due to an editing error, this report initially identified the group Pope Francis spoke to as the "Vatican diplomatic corps."

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