BY CINDY WOODEN IN ROME
WAR, hunger, oppression, environmental degradation and the current global financial crisis are all the result of selfishness and a lack of respect for the human person created in God’s image, Pope Benedict XVI has told diplomats from around the world.
“If we wish to build true peace, how can we separate or even set at odds the protection of the environment and the protection of human life, including the life of the unborn?” the Pope asked ambassadors from the 178 countries that have diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
Pope Benedict on Monday met the ambassadors to offer them his best wishes for the New Year. After his speech he spent more than half an hour greeting each of them and their spouses.
In his speech the Pope highlighted his hopes and concerns regarding the state of the environment, ongoing wars and violence, military spending and the arms trade, restrictions on religious freedom and attacks on the unborn and on the traditional family.
Much of his talk focused on the environment, echoing his message for World Peace Day of January 1, which had as its theme “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation”.
The Pope told the diplomats that a “self-centered and materialistic way of thinking”, which ignores the fact that human beings are creatures and not gods, triggered the current global economic crisis and is also the attitude behind the devastation of the environment.
“The denial of God distorts the freedom of the human person, yet it also devastates creation,” he said.
He said the truth of that statement could be seen in the countries of the former Soviet bloc where economic and religious freedoms were denied by Communism and government policies left in their wake the pollution of the air, water and soil. “It follows that the protection of creation is not principally a response to an aesthetic need, but much more to a moral need, inasmuch as nature expresses a plan of love and truth which is prior to us and which comes from God,” he said.
Pope Benedict decried “economic and political resistance to combating the degradation of the environment”, which he said was evident at the UN summit on climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark. He said he hoped that follow-up conferences this year would lead to effective international policies for protecting the environment.
But he also said that the devastation of the world’s forests, the spread of its deserts and the pollution of its water could not be reversed without moral education and changed lifestyles.
The Catholic Church and other religious bodies can play a major role in helping people accept their responsibility for caring for the earth, but only if they are given their rightful place in society, he said.
“Sadly, in certain countries, mainly in the West, one encounters in political and cultural circles, as well as in the media, scarce respect and at times hostility, if not scorn, directed toward religion and toward Christianity in particular,” he said.
While the Church and state have separate roles to play, the Pope said, “denying the social importance of religion” creates only confrontation and division, rather than cooperation.
Pope Benedict also faulted moves in Europe and North and South America to equate marriage and homosexual unions by claiming they are fighting discrimination. In fact, he said, they ignore the natural order of creation and the differences between the sexes.
Turning to military spending Pope Benedict expressed hope that talks scheduled for May in New York on nuclear non-proliferation would succeed because “enormous resources are being consumed” to maintain and develop nuclear arsenals. The arms trade, in general, is a scourge, he said, and “helps to perpetuate conflicts and violence as in Darfur, in Somalia or in the Democratic Republic of Congo”.
He said he was worried about the continuing migration of Christians from the Holy Land, who are “assailed in various ways, even in the exercise of their religious freedom”.
The Pope repeated the Vatican’s position that Israel has a right to exist in peace and security, but that the Palestinian people also have a right to their own homeland.