VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In the Middle East, in Africa and wherever violence and extreme poverty threaten human life and dignity, people must recognize the truth that all people are created equal and have a right to exist in freedom, Pope Benedict XVI said.
"Bloodshed does not cry out for revenge, but begs for respect for life, for peace," the pope said Jan. 9 in his address to ambassadors and other diplomats representing their nations at the Vatican.
The pope specifically mentioned ongoing tensions in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Iraq, the Darfur region of Sudan and the Great Lakes region of Africa.
He spoke about the threat to peace caused by terrorism, extreme poverty and human trafficking.
The pope said the resolution of differences must be based on the truth about people and their communities, that they are equal but have legitimate differences that must be balanced.
Pope Benedict said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict illustrates what he means: "The State of Israel has to be able to exist peacefully in conformity with the norms of international law" and "the Palestinian people has to be able to develop serenely its own democratic institutions for a free and prosperous future."
A commitment to truth, he said, also implies an individual or a nation is able to recognize when it has made a mistake and is able to seek forgiveness.
Pope Benedict said he knows some people will counter by saying, "Differing convictions about the truth cause tensions, misunderstandings, disputes, and these are all the more serious, the deeper the convictions underlying them."
However, he said, a closer look reveals that conflict has "little or nothing to do with truth or religion" and that a sincere commitment to truth and to the respect for freedom demanded by truth is lacking when one or both sides resort to violence.
"Where the Catholic Church herself is concerned, insofar as serious mistakes were made in the past by some of her members and by her institutions, she condemns those mistakes, and she has not hesitated to ask for forgiveness," he said.
Pope Benedict repeated the words of Pope John Paul II: "There can be no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness."
A commitment to truth, a recognition of one's own errors and sincere forgiveness are needed in the Holy Land, in Lebanon and through the Middle East, "especially, Iraq, the cradle of great civilizations, which in these past years has suffered daily from violent acts of terrorism."
"Surely one of the great goals of diplomacy must be that of leading all parties in conflict to understand that if they are committed to truth, they must acknowledge errors -- and not merely the errors of others," he said.
A commitment to truth, he said, also requires respect for the freedom of every person to seek the truth and to express his or her religious convictions.
"Unfortunately, in some states, even among those who can boast centuries-old cultural traditions, freedom of religion -- far from being guaranteed -- is seriously violated, especially where minorities are concerned," Pope Benedict said.
"To all those responsible for the life of nations, I wish to state: If you do not fear truth, you need not fear freedom," he said.
Recognizing truth, people will see that peace is not simply the lack of armed conflict, but flows from acknowledging the existence of right and wrong on an individual and societal level and acting to protect the dignity of each human being, the pope said.
"One cannot speak of peace in situations where human beings are lacking even the basic necessities for living with dignity," he said.
The pope called for concerted action on the part of individuals and nations -- especially the world's wealthiest countries -- to end poverty and starvation and to improve the living conditions of people in refugee camps.
"Truth demands that none of the prosperous states renounce its own responsibility and duty to provide help through drawing more generously upon its own resources," he said.
"On the basis of available statistical data," the pope said, "it can be said that less than half of the immense sums spent worldwide on armaments would be more than sufficient to liberate the immense masses of the poor from destitution."
Francis Rooney, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, told Catholic News Service that joining the entire diplomatic corps for the first time in a meeting with Pope Benedict was "a tremendously impressive experience."
From the point of view of U.S. foreign policy, he said, "it was a great speech," particularly the pope's emphasis on the links between truth and freedom and truth and human dignity.
The speech, Rooney said, "reinforced for me that we are on the right track with having human dignity and essential freedoms as our basic focus."
On specifics, he said, advocacy for religious freedom around the world and concrete efforts to prevent human trafficking traditionally have been among the top concerns of the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican, and that commitment will continue.
Rooney also said he was not surprised that Pope Benedict's only mention of Iraq was to express concern for ongoing terrorist attacks there.
"The Vatican has made it clear they support nation-building in Iraq," the ambassador said.
The focus is "on the present and the future," the ambassador said, not on the differences between Pope John Paul II and President George W. Bush over the need to go to war in Iraq in the first place.
- Copyright (c) 2006 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops