Francis calls on global political, faith leaders to work together against terrorism

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis has called on the world's political and faith leaders to join together to fight what he terms the "homicidal madness" of terrorism, saying in an annual address Monday to national ambassadors accredited to the Vatican that fundamentalism is caused by both spiritual and social poverty.

The pontiff called on religious leaders to "join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God’s name." They, he said, are "charged with transmitting those religious values which do not separate fear of God from love of neighbor."

Political leaders, said Francis, are "responsible for ensuring that conditions do not exist that can serve as fertile terrain for the spread of forms of fundamentalism."

"This calls for suitable social policies aimed at combating poverty ...  and [for] a major investment in the areas of education and culture," said the pope.

The pope was speaking Monday to the some 180 ambassadors accredited to the Holy See in an annual event in which the pope gives what is often called his "State of the World" address.

Terrorism was a particular focus in this year's address, with Francis naming 14 countries, including the United States, that suffered terrorist attacks in 2016. But the pontiff also spoke on a vast array of issues in his 45-minute speech.

While outlining many of the world's armed conflicts and struggles one-by-one, the pope also asked political leaders to renounce violence as a resolution to international problems, strongly spoke out anew for nuclear disarmament, and asked governments to welcome migrants fleeing difficult situations.

Francis started the address by noting that much of the world was submerged in the first global war a century ago, and said that as 2017 begins there is now a dichotomy between those who are living in similar situations of violence and those who are not.

For many in privileged places, said the pontiff, "peace appears as a blessing to be taken for granted, for all intents an acquired right to which not much thought is given."

"Yet, for all too many others, peace remains merely a distant dream," said Francis. "Millions of people still live in the midst of senseless conflicts. Even in places once considered secure, a general sense of fear is felt."

"We are frequently overwhelmed by images of death, by the pain of innocent men, women and children who plead for help and consolation, by the grief of those mourning the loss of a dear one due to hatred and violence, and by the drama of refugees fleeing war and migrants meeting tragic deaths," the pope continued.

Quoting the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et spes, the pontiff told the ambassadors that peace "must be built up continually" by respecting peoples' dignity and rights.

"Peacemaking requires above all else renouncing violence in vindicating one’s rights," said Francis, mentioning that he chose to focus on nonviolence as a political method in his recent message for the 2017 World Day of Peace.

The pontiff then turned to the continuing migrant crisis, quoting from his predecessor John XXIII's 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris to exhort governments to a "common commitment" to helping migrants that involves "respecting the right of 'every human being ... to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there.'"

"Prudence on the part of public authorities does not mean enacting policies of exclusion vis-à-vis migrants, but it does entail evaluating, with wisdom and foresight, the extent to which their country is in a position, without prejudice to the common good of citizens, to offer a decent life to migrants, especially those truly in need of protection," said the pope.

"The current crisis should not be reduced to a simple matter of numbers," said Francis. "Migrants are persons, with their own names, stories and families. There can never be true peace as long as a single human being is violated in his or her personal identity and reduced to a mere statistic or an object of economic calculation."

The pope also offered his gratitude to countries that have taken particular effort to welcome migrants, naming specifically Italy, Germany, Greece, Sweden, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. He mentioned how he felt close to the migrant crisis in his 2016 visits to both Mexico and the Greek island of Lesbos.

Francis also noted the continuing brutal conflict in Syria, bringing up the topic as he spoke about his visit last year to World Youth Day in Poland. While he said he saw many young people there who were "full of life and enthusiasm," others' faces were full of pain and suffering.

"I think of the young people affected by the brutal conflict in Syria, deprived of the joys of childhood and youth, such as the ability to play games and to attend school," said the pope. "My constant thoughts are with them and the beloved Syrian people."

"I appeal to the international community to make every effort to encourage serious negotiations for an end to the conflict, which is causing a genuine human catastrophe," said Francis.

The pontiff also called for the elimination of what he termed the "deplorable arms trade and the never-ending race to create and spread ever more sophisticated weaponry." He referenced recent nuclear weapons tests by North Korea, calling them "particularly disturbing" and saying they "destabilize the entire region and raise troubling questions for the entire international community about the risk of a new nuclear arms race."

Quoting again from Pacem in Terris, Francis added: "The stockpiles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced all round by the parties concerned. Nuclear weapons must be banned."

Francis said that beyond weaponry another "enemy of peace" is "ideology that exploits social unrest in order to foment contempt and hate, and views others as enemies to be eliminated."

"Peace, on the other hand, triumphs through solidarity," said the pontiff. "It generates the desire for dialogue and cooperation which finds an essential instrument in diplomacy."

The pope then called the re-opening of relations between the United States and Cuba a "heartening" example of the power of dialogue, in what may be seen as a rebuke against President-elect Trump's promise to reevaluate that re-opening.

Francis also reiterated the Vatican's call for the resumption of formal dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, calling for a "stable and enduring solution that guarantees the peaceful coexistence of two states within internationally recognized borders."

"No conflict can become a habit impossible to break," said the pope. "Israelis and Palestinians need peace. The whole Middle East urgently needs peace!"

Francis ended his address by telling the world's ambassadors that peace is a gift, a challenge, and a commitment.

"It is a gift because it flows from the very heart of God," he said. "It is a challenge because it is a good that can never be taken for granted and must constantly be achieved. It is a commitment because it demands passionate effort on the part of all people of goodwill to seek and build it."

"This is my prayerful hope for the year just begun: that our countries and their peoples may find increased opportunities to work together in building true peace," said the pontiff.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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