VATICAN CITY (RNS) — In a lengthy speech to ambassadors at the Vatican on Thursday (Jan. 9), Pope Francis laid out his international agenda for the new year by addressing mounting concerns about the situation in Iran, the impact of climate change in Australia and the necessary steps to ensure peace.
“Sadly, the new year does not seem to be marked by encouraging signs, as much as by heightened tensions and acts of violence,” the pope acknowledged.
“Precisely in light of these situations, we cannot give up hope. And hope requires courage. It means acknowledging that evil, suffering and death will not have the last word, and that even the most complex questions can and must be faced and resolved,” he said.
Francis spoke in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace to the representatives of the 183 states that hold international relations with the Holy See. This speech, which he delivers every year, is a highly anticipated event in the Vatican since it highlights the international issues the pope will likely prioritize.
The year 2020 did not start off promisingly, according to George Poulides, the Cyprus ambassador to the Holy See and the dean of the diplomatic corps, who in his introductory speech warned that “nationalism and particularism are becoming more assertive” in the context “of a third world war that is being fought piecemeal.”
Pope Francis called the heightening tensions between Iran and the United States a “troubling” development that not only might endanger the rebuilding prospects in Iraq, but also set “the groundwork for a vaster conflict that all of us would want to avert.”
“I therefore renew my 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 said, echoing the plea for peace he delivered on Monday.
The pope also mentioned the situation in Israel, into which political observers fear the U.S. and Iran conflict risks boiling over. Mentioning his joint appeal with the king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, in March of last year, Francis emphasized the need for Jerusalem to be “a symbolic place of encounter and peaceful coexistence.”
“(I) reiterate the urgent need for the whole international community to reconfirm, with courage and sincerity, and in respect for international law, its commitment to support the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” he said.
He criticized the “pall of silence” that has fallen over the war in Syria, confirming the Vatican’s support for peacemaking efforts and thanking the neighboring countries of Jordan and Lebanon for taking on the lion’s share of refugees.
Francis also mentioned the document he co-signed last year with the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb, promoting fraternity and unity between Christians and Muslims. The pope stressed the importance of religious freedom and the need to eliminate the term “minorities,” which he said “engenders feelings of isolation and inferiority, and paves the way for hostility and discord, discriminating between citizens on the basis of their religious affiliation.”
The fires that have destroyed a massive portion of wildlife and forests in Australia were also on the pontiff’s mind. “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.
Francis called once more for “an ecological conversion,” observing that its urgency “seems not to have been grasped by international politics,” insisting that the response from those in power “remains very weak and a source of grave concerns.”
He quoted the failure to find effective solutions at the United Nations’ meeting on climate change, COP 25, as an example of the lack of willingness by nations to seriously address the issue. Francis also mentioned the Vatican’s efforts in this field borne from the Synod on the Amazon Region last October.
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Source: Religion News Service