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The human person, the heart of peace

The Human Person, the Heart of Peace," is the theme for Pope Benedict XVI's message for World Peace Day, January 1, 2007. This message was sent to heads of state around the world.

The Pope said that even when faced with a potential terrorist attack or in the midst of war, basic human rights must be respected: "Peace is based on respect for the rights of all." His message included prayers for peace in war-torn countries, such as Lebanon; special concern for child victims of violence; a condemnation of continued nuclear proliferation; and concern over the potential for violent conflicts over energy resources.

The basis of any hope for peace, the Pope said, is a recognition that each human person is created in the image and likeness of God and, therefore, endowed with a dignity and with rights that cannot be usurped by anyone.

Most countries have adopted the tenets of international humanitarian law, recognising that it applies in situations of conflict as well as in peacetime, he said. "Unfortunately, to say nothing of past cases, this has not been consistently implemented in certain recent situations of war," he said. Specifically citing the July war in Lebanon between Hizbollah and Israel, Pope Benedict said the duty to protect, assist and avoid involving the civilian population "was largely ignored.

Here are some excerpts from the message.

1. The norms of natural law.

"The norms of the natural law should not be viewed as externally imposed decrees, as restraints upon human freedom. Rather, they should be welcomed as a call to carry out faithfully the universal divine plan inscribed in the nature of human beings. Guided by these norms, all peoples - within their respective cultures - can draw near to the greatest mystery, which is the mystery of God. Today too, recognition and respect for natural law represents the foundation for a dialogue between the followers of the different religions and between believers and non-believers. As a great point of convergence, this is also a fundamental presupposition for authentic peace."

2. The right to life

"As far as the right to life is concerned, we must denounce its widespread violation in our society: alongside the victims of armed conflicts, terrorism and the different forms of violence, there are the silent deaths caused by hunger, abortion, experimentation on human embryos and euthanasia. How can we fail to see in all this an attack on peace? Abortion and embryonic experimentation constitute a direct denial of that attitude of acceptance of others which is indispensable for establishing lasting relationships of peace."

3. Religious freedom

"As far as the free expression of personal faith is concerned, another disturbing symptom of lack of peace in the world is represented by the difficulties that both Christians and the followers of other religions frequently encounter in publicly and freely professing their religious convictions. Speaking of Christians in particular, I must point out with pain that not only are they at times prevented from doing so; in some States they are actually persecuted, and even recently tragic cases of ferocious violence have been recorded. There are regimes that impose a single religion upon everyone, while secular regimes often lead not so much to violent persecution as to systematic cultural denigration of religious beliefs. In both instances, a fundamental human right is not being respected, with serious repercussions for peaceful coexistence. This can only promote a mentality and culture that is not conducive to peace."

4. The natural equality of all persons

"At the origin of many tensions that threaten peace are surely the many unjust inequalities still tragically present in our world. Particularly insidious among these are, on the one hand, inequality in access to essential goods like food, water, shelter, health; on the other hand, there are persistent inequalities between men and women in the exercise of basic human rights.

A fundamental element of building peace is the recognition of the essential equality of human persons springing from their common transcendental dignity. Equality on this level is a good belonging to all... it is a good that cannot be ignored or scorned without causing serious repercussions which put peace at risk.

"Inadequate consideration for the condition of women helps to create instability in the fabric of society. I think of the exploitation of women who are treated as objects, and of the many ways that a lack of respect is shown for their dignity... There can be no illusion of a secure peace until these forms of discrimination are also overcome, since they injure the personal dignity impressed by the Creator upon every human being."

5. No war in God's name

"We must be guided by a vision of the person untainted by ideological and cultural prejudices or by political and economic interests which can instil hatred and violence. It is understandable that visions of man will vary from culture to culture. Yet what cannot be admitted is the cultivation of anthropological conceptions that contain the seeds of hostility and violence. Equally unacceptable are conceptions of God that would encourage intolerance and recourse to violence against others. This is a point which must be clearly reaffirmed: war in God's name is never acceptable! When a certain notion of God is at the origin of criminal acts, it is a sign that that notion has already become an ideology."

6. Respect for human rights

"A true and stable peace presupposes respect for human rights. Yet if these rights are grounded on a weak conception of the person, how can they fail to be themselves weakened? Here we can see how profoundly insufficient is a relativistic conception of the person when it comes to justifying and defending his rights. The difficulty in this case is clear: rights are proposed as absolute, yet the foundation on which they are supposed to rest is merely relative. Can we wonder that, faced with the "inconvenient" demands posed by one right or another, someone will come along to question it or determine that it should be set aside? Only if they are grounded in the objective requirements of the nature bestowed on man by the Creator, can the rights attributed to him be affirmed without fear of contradiction. It goes without saying, moreover, that human rights imply corresponding duties"

7. Urgent appeal

"Finally, I wish to make an urgent appeal to the People of God: let every Christian be committed to tireless peace-making and strenuous defence of the dignity of the human person and his inalienable rights.

"With gratitude to the Lord for having called him to belong to his Church, which is 'the sign and safeguard of the transcendental dimension of the human person' in the world, the Christian will tirelessly implore from God the fundamental good of peace, which is of such primary importance in the life of each person. Moreover, he will be proud to serve the cause of peace with generous devotion, offering help to his brothers and sisters...

"Let every believer, then, unfailingly contribute to the advancement of a true integral humanism in accordance with the teachings of the Encyclical Letters Populorum Progressio and Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, whose respective 40th and 20th anniversaries we prepare to celebrate this year."

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