In his annual address to members of the diplomatic corps at the beginning of the new year, Pope Francis says the heightening of tensions between Iran and the United States “risks… compromising the gradual process of rebuilding in Iraq, as well as setting the groundwork for a vaster conflict”.
Noting that “peace and integral human development are… the principal aim of the Holy See in its involvement in the field of diplomacy”, the Pope’s speech focused heavily on “hope” and calls for dialogue and for concerted international action on various issues facing the world today.
The Pontiff recalled his numerous Apostolic Visits over the course of the past year, beginning with the journey to Panama for World Youth Day. “It is always a joy and a great opportunity to meet young people”, he said. “They are the future and hope of our societies”. He acknowledged the “grave crimes” committed against young people by adults, including members of the clergy, and noted that, with the Meeting for the Protection of Minors in the Church, “the Holy See has renewed its commitment to bring to light abuses already committed and to ensure the protection of minors”.
Combatting climate change
In the context of being open to dialogue with young people, and listening to their concerns, the Pope raised the issue of climate change, with calls for ecological conversion on the part of all. He lamented the lack of commitment of the international community in addressing the challenges facing our common home.
Pope Francis also highlighted the “proliferation of political crises” in countries in the Americas, mentioning Venezuela in particular. Although rooted in diverse causes, these crises, he said, are linked by inequality, injustice, corruption and poverty. It is necessary, he said, to establish a “culture of dialogue” to respond to those issues.
On his second journey in 2019, Pope Francis travelled to the United Arab Emirates, where he signed the Document on Human Fraternity with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, focused on fostering mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence. He emphasized the need to train future generations in interreligious dialogue.
During his visit to Morocco, the Holy Father signed a joint appeal, with King Muhammed VI, on Jerusalem – a holy city for the world’s three great monotheistic religions, which, the Pope said, should be a symbolic place of peaceful coexistence.
Commitment to peace
The Pope called on the international community to be engaged in the peace process, not only in the Holy Land, but throughout the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. He pointed in particular to the war in Syria, and ongoing conflicts in Yemen and Libya. And in view of the heightened tensions between Iran and the United States, he renewed his appeal “that all the interested parties avoid an escalation of the conflict and ‘keep alive the flame of dialogue and self-restraint’, in full respect of international law”.
He also encouraged the international community to address the plight of migrants seeking asylum, whose legitimate needs must be identified, while noting once again, how the Mediterranean Sea has become “a vast cemetery”.
Pope Francis also recalled his visits to the Eastern European nations of Bulgaria, North Macedonia, and Romania, where he experienced “the importance of dialogue and the culture of encounter”. He highlighted “the importance of dialogue and respect for international law in resolving the ‘frozen conflicts’ that persist” in Europe, taking note of situations in the western Balkans and Georgia; and encouraging ongoing talks for the reunification of Cyprus. He also expressed his appreciation for efforts to resolve the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. “Dialogue, not arms, is the essential way to resolve disputes”, he insisted.
The Pope said the Holy See “has followed the European project with great interest” from its earliest beginnings, and noted the 50th anniversary of its presence as an observer at the Council of Europe. He cautioned Europe against losing “that sense of solidarity that for centuries has set it apart”. Pope Francis said the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall reminds us “how easy it is to erect barriers”. But, he continued, “rather than walls of hatred, we prefer bridges of reconciliation and solidarity”.
Signs of peace in Africa
The Pontiff was also visited Africa last year, where he was “able to see signs of peace and reconciliation”, including an agreement on the cessation of hostilities in Mozambique; security replacing instability in Madagascar; and peaceful coexistence between members of different religions in Mauritius.
However, looking at other parts of the continent, the Pope said, “it is painful to witness, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria, continuing episodes of violence against innocent people, including many Christians persecuted and killed for their fidelity to the Gospel”. Here, too, he appealed to the international community to work together, calling on it to work not only to eliminate “the scourge of terrorism”, but also “to implement practical strategies” for reducing poverty, improving healthcare, favouring development and humanitarian aid, as well as good governance and civil rights.
He noted, too, the need to address the issue of internal displacement, expressing support for the work of the United Nations High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement. In this regard, Pope Francis said his thoughts turn also to Sudan and the Central African Republic, with the hope that both countries can embrace peace. “My thoughts also turn to South Sudan”, the Pope said, “which I hope to be able to visit in the course of this year”.
The Pope’s final journey in 2019 took him to east Asia, where he visited Thailand with its harmony of various ethnic groups with different philosophies, cultures, religion.
No to nuclear weapons
In Japan, the Holy Father “experienced the pain and horror that we human beings are capable of inflicting on one another” especially in hearing the voices of survivors of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “True peace”, Pope Francis said, “cannot be built on the threat of a possible total annihilation of humanity by nuclear weapons”. He repeated “a world ‘without nuclear weapons is possible and necessary’.
As he concluded his review of his journeys throughout the year, the Pope said he is thinking of a nation he had not had the opportunity to visit: Australia, which has been hard hit by serious wildfires throughout the country. “I would like to assure the Australian people, especially the victims and all those in the areas devastated by the fires, of my closeness and my prayers,” he said.
Founding principles of UN
Finally, Pope Francis noted that 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. He insisted that the foundational principles of the organization – the desire for peace, the pursuit of justice, respect for the dignity of the human person, and humanitarian cooperation and assistance – remain valid today, and should form the basis for international relations. He affirmed that human rights are “intrinsically grounded in human nature itself”.
A special word to women
And noting the 70th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, the Pope said he wanted to address “a special word to all women, 25 years after” the Beijing conference on women in 1995. “It is my hope, he said, that the invaluable role of women in society may be increasingly acknowledged worldwide, and that all forms of injustice, discrimination, and violence against women come to an end”.
Finally, the Holy Father said that the Assumption of Mary “also invites us to look ahead to the completion of our earthly journey, to that day when justice and peace will be re-established”. He reaffirming his own commitment, and that of the Holy See, to that goal.