Pope Francis: 'Peace is a responsibility incumbent on all of us'

In his annual “State of the World” address to members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis reflects on the conflicts and divisions ravaging the world and highlights the responsibility of individuals and nations to foster peace.

By Linda Bordoni

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Pope Francis recalled as he welcomed the expanded “diplomatic family” in the Vatican, thanking the ambassadors for their efforts to nurture good relations between the Holy See and their respective countries.

And immediately he shone the light on the central theme of his discourse – Peace - which he said, is primarily a gift of God, for it is He who left us His peace. “Yet it is also a responsibility incumbent upon all of us,” he added.

Greeting the ambassadors from throughout the globe accredited to the Holy See on Monday, 8 January 2024, he expressed deep concern about the escalating conflicts worldwide and described the current state of affairs as a "third world war fought piecemeal" openly addressing specific geopolitical crises.

Israel and Palestine

Recalling the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, the Holy Father condemned the October 7 attack on the Israeli people.

“I renew my condemnation of this act and of every instance of terrorism and extremism. This is not the way to resolve disputes between peoples; those disputes are only aggravated and cause suffering for everyone,” he said.

And condemning the subsequent military response to that act that has led to full-scale war in Gaza - where over 22,000 people have been killed and millions injured and displaced - the Pope decried the fact that it “provoked a strong Israeli military response in Gaza that has led to the death of tens of thousands of Palestinians, mainly civilians, including many young people and children, and has caused an exceptionally grave humanitarian crisis and inconceivable suffering.”

Thus, he called for an immediate ceasefire, the release of hostages, and access to humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people.

He also reiterated his support for a “two-state” solution, as well as an “internationally guaranteed special status for the City of Jerusalem, aiming for lasting peace and security.

Destruction caused by Israeli strike on Gaza City
Destruction caused by Israeli strike on Gaza City

Syria, Lebanon, Myanmar

The Pope expressed concern for the destabilizing situation in the entire region that is clearly affected by the present conflict in Gaza.

In particular, he turned his attention to the people of Syria who are “living in a situation of economic and political instability aggravated by last February’s earthquake.”

He appealed to the international community “to encourage the parties involved to undertake a constructive and serious dialogue and to seek new solutions so that the Syrian people need no longer suffer as a result of international sanctions.”

Expressing “profound distress for the millions of Syrian refugees still present in neighbouring countries like Jordan and Lebanon,” the Pope did not neglect to mention the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, pleading that “every effort be made to offer hope to that land and a dignified future to its young (…) not neglecting the humanitarian emergency that the Rohingya continue to experience.”

Russia and Ukraine, Armenia and Azerbaijan

Reiterating his perspective of a third world war fought piecemeal, the Pope recalled almost two years of large-scale war waged by Russia against Ukraine that has resulted in “great numbers of victims and massive destruction” and the situation in the South Caucasus between Armenia and Azerbaijan, with the dramatic situation of refugees.

In both instances, he called for negotiations, in respect for international law and for religious diversity.

Armenians flee Nagorno Karabakh after the lastest offensie by Azerbaijan
Armenians flee Nagorno Karabakh after the lastest offensie by Azerbaijan

Spotlight on Africa

Pope Francis addressed humanitarian crises in sub-Saharan Africa, including the effects of terrorism, political instability, and climate change. He called for serious efforts in implementing agreements, such as the Pretoria Agreement, to address conflicts in Tigray, and sought solutions to tensions in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa.

The war in Sudan and its far-reaching consequences on millions of displaced people was also on his radar, as was the plight of refugees in Cameroon, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan.

Challenges in the Americas

While acknowledging the absence of open wars in the Americas, the Pope highlighted serious tensions between several countries in Latin America, such as Venezuela and Guyana, and expressed concerns about political polarization affecting democratic institutions in places like Peru and Nicaragua.

”The situation in Nicaragua remains troubling: a protracted crisis with painful consequences for Nicaraguan society as a whole, and in particular for the Catholic Church,” he said, reaffirming the  Holy See’s commitment to encourage “a respectful diplomatic dialogue for the benefit of Catholics and the entire population.”

A lacerated world and the human faces of war

Continuing to paint a vivid picture of an increasingly lacerated world where millions of individuals suffer due to conflicts, and detailing the human faces behind the statistics, Pope Francis condemned the violation of international humanitarian law, stating that grave violations are war crimes that demand not only identification but also prevention.

Noting that modern warfare no longer takes place only on clearly defined battlefields, the Pope lamented that in a “context where it appears that 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.” 

“The events in Ukraine and Gaza are clear proof of this,” he said.   

Sudanese refugees in makeshift shelters in Adre, Chad
Sudanese refugees in makeshift shelters in Adre, Chad

Disarmament and global security

Pope Francis stressed the need for disarmament, asserting that weapons do not have a deterrent value but rather encourage their use.

“How many lives could be saved with the resources that today are misdirected to weaponry?" he asked, while restating his proposal to “invest those resources in the pursuit of genuine global security,” as humankind should work to tackle the root causes of conflict.

“The challenges of our time transcend borders, as we see from the variety of crises – of food, the environment, the economy, and health care – that have marked the beginning of the century. Here I reiterate my proposal that a global fund be established to finally eliminate hunger and to promote a sustainable development of the entire planet,” he said.

Environmental crisis and Climate Change

Another root cause for conflict the Pope did not forget to mention is the climate crisis that “demands an increasingly urgent response and full involvement on the part of all, including the international community as a whole.”

He expressed his hope that the agreement adopted in Dubai at the UN Climate Summit may lead to “a decisive acceleration of the ecological transition.'"

Migration and the Mediterranean crisis

The speech provided the Pope with the opportunity to call for respect and protection for those who are forced to flee their lands.

Faced with what is perceived as an “invasion,” he lamented the fact that “we can easily end up closing our hearts.”

“We are quick to forget that we are dealing with people with faces and names, and we overlook the specific vocation of this, ‘our sea’ (mare nostrum), to be not a tomb but a place of encounter and mutual enrichment between individuals, peoples, and cultures,” he said. 

Thus, the Holy Father appealed for a balanced approach that regulates migration while respecting the rights and dignity of individuals, and called for a shift in perspective regarding the Mediterranean, envisioning it as a “laboratory of peace” rather than a cemetery, where migrants are welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated.

“We need likewise to insist on the right of people to remain in their homeland and the corresponding need to create the conditions for the effective exercise of this right,” he said.

Wooden crosses made with the remains of boats in Lampedusa commemorate migrants who have died at sea during their journeys of hope
Wooden crosses made with the remains of boats in Lampedusa commemorate migrants who have died at sea during their journeys of hope

Education, Human Rights, Dialogue

Coming to the end of a long and extremely articulated speech, Pope Francis pointed to education as a means of investing in the future, especially in the context of the ethical use of new technologies.

He spoke of the need for technological development to be ethical and responsible and highlighted the overreaching importance of human rights.

Decrying trends that have led to ideological colonization and the spread of a "culture of death" in some parts of the world, he appealed for respect for life, starting with the unborn child, and criticized practices like surrogate motherhood as violations of human dignity.

“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.”

Finally, Pope Francis upheld the role of dialogue, and in particular of interreligious dialogue as a crucial element in the pursuit of peace.

“The path to peace also passes through interreligious dialogue, which before all else requires the protection of religious freedom and respect for minorities,” he said, lamenting the fact that an “increasing number of countries are adopting models of centralized control over religious freedom, especially by the massive use of technology.”

He called for respect of minority religious communities, whom he said,  “In some cases, risk extinction due to a combination of terrorism, attacks on their cultural heritage, and more subtle measures such as the proliferation of anti-conversion laws, the manipulation of electoral rules, and financial restrictions.”

Staying with this theme, the Pope also reiterated his condemnation of all acts of anti-Semitism and the increasing discrimination against Christians worldwide.

Holy Year

The Pope concluded his address by reminding those present that the Church is preparing for the Jubilee, the Holy Year that will begin next Christmas. 

“Today, perhaps more than ever,” he said, “we need a Holy Year,” a season of grace that enables us to experience God’s mercy and the gift of His peace.

Amid many causes of suffering that lead to a sense of hopelessness not only in those directly affected but throughout our societies, the Pope said, amid the difficulties experienced by young people, “who instead of dreaming of a better future often feel helpless and frustrated,” and amid the gloom of this world that seems to be spreading rather than receding, “the Jubilee is a proclamation that God never abandons his people and constantly keeps open the doors to his Kingdom.”

Ambassadors accredited to the Holy See listen to Pope Francis' "State of the World" discourse
Ambassadors accredited to the Holy See listen to Pope Francis' "State of the World" discourse
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08 January 2024, 10:38