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  • John Thavis

Food for thought in pope's speech to diplomats

Updated: Feb 18, 2020

Pope Francis this week delivered his annual “state of the world” talk to the diplomatic corps at the Vatican. It was one of his more far-ranging speeches, and his comments touched on several topics of particular interest to the United States:

— North Korea. The pope repeated his call to settle any international disputes by negotiation and agreement, not by recourse to arms, and added:

"In this regard, it is of paramount importance to support every effort at dialogue on the Korean peninsula, in order to find new ways of overcoming the current disputes, increasing mutual trust and ensuring a peaceful future for the Korean people and the entire world."

— War and peace. More generally, the pope endorsed the church’s longstanding position that peace is not built through fear and intimidation, but through a dialogue in which “nations can discuss matters on equal terms.” A corollary, he said, is that multilateral diplomacy (i.e., engaging the international community) should have a key role in disputes between two countries.

— Weapons production and sales. The pope denounced the weapons industry and said the proliferation of arms has made modern conflicts more deadly. Citing Pope John XXIII's encyclical Pacem in Terris, he reiterated the Vatican’s full support for a ban on nuclear weapons:

"The stockpiles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced all round and simultaneously by the parties concerned. Nuclear weapons must be banned. Indeed, even if it is difficult to believe that anyone would dare to assume responsibility for initiating the appalling slaughter and destruction that war would bring in its wake, there is no denying that the conflagration could be started by some chance and unforeseen circumstance.”

— Jerusalem. The pope called for respect of the status quo for Jerusalem, which puts him at odds with the Trump administration and its recent recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. The pope noted that the Vatican position is in conformity with United Nations resolutions. On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the pope added: “Seventy years of confrontation make more urgent than ever the need for a political solution that allows the presence in the region of two independent states within internationally recognized borders.”

— Climate change. Once again, Pope Francis stated unequivocally that the global rise in temperatures and their “devastating effects” are a consequence of human activity. He called for nations to respect the 2015 Paris agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Trump administration has announced it will withdraw from the agreement.

— Globalization. The pope in this speech focused on two worrisome aspects of globalization. One was economic:

"On the one hand, we note an inequitable distribution of the work opportunities, while on the other, a tendency to demand of laborers an ever more pressing pace. The demands of profit, dictated by globalization, have led to a progressive reduction of times and days of rest, with the result that a fundamental dimension of life has been lost – that of rest – which serves to regenerate persons not only physically but also spiritually."

The pope’s other concern was about a form of colonization by the world’s richer nations, particularly in areas where “debatable notions” of human rights have been advanced that are at odds with the culture of many countries”:

"(These countries) feel that they are not respected in their social and cultural traditions, and instead neglected with regard to the real needs they have to face. Somewhat paradoxically, there is a risk that, in the very name of human rights, we will see the rise of modern forms of ideological colonization by the stronger and the wealthier, to the detriment of the poorer and the most vulnerable."

The full text of the pope's speech is available here.

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