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Pope's U.N. address won't please everyone

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI will address the United Nation’s General Assembly tomorrow morning on the occasion of the 60th anniversary year of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Many members of the international community expect a condemnation of the U.S. for the war on terror. Others want to see the pope forcefully denounce capitalism and greed. Climate change ranks high on the list of topics that some Europeans want him to tackle. Developing nations have suggested the “injustice of poverty” is the main point of the pontiff’s address to 192 member states.

Some will be disappointed.

At the U.N., Benedict will also meet privately with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Last year, the U.N. chief visited the pope at the Vatican and invited the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics to address the world body. The pope is also a head-of-state, the Holy See. The tiny Vatican state is a non-voting member of the U.N. In this capacity it retains the right to speak formally in the debates of the General Assembly, to reply to the interventions of member states and to co-sponsor draft resolutions.

The intention behind the invitation to the pope to speak before the General Assembly was stated clearly by Ban: “More than ever we need today an articulated, clear and profound dialogue among cultures and religions, particularly between Christianity and Islam.”

Critics of U.S. engagement in Iraq point to the 2003 negative comments on the war by Cardinal Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI:
“[The] proportion between the possible positive consequences and the sure negative effect of the conflict was not guaranteed. On the contrary, it seems clear that the negative consequences will be greater than anything positive that might be obtained.”

The Catholic Church teaches a “just war” doctrine, an ancient formula based on the gospel, St. Augustine and Cicero. The criteria given for military engagement is narrow and the authority for the decision to go to war remains with the head of a nation.

The catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense. Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.”

Modern communications, intelligence gathering and weaponry complicate an easy application of the “just war” criteria. For this reason comments made by the pope are “nuanced,” appealing to men of “good conscience.” The U.N. will not hear a denouncement of the war in Iraq, rather the papal message will be an appeal for peace and the cessation of violence – a message to terrorists and to nations who fight terror.

Despite urgent matters of current events, the main thrust of Benedict’s address will be the basis for universal human rights. This pope has been called a “teaching pope.” The foundation on which peace rests is respect for human rights. It is this principle that he will make most forcefully to member nations.

Fr. Federico Lombardi is director of the Vatican press office.

According to Lombardi, “It can be expected that the discourse will be centered on the theme of the rights of man, of the basis, the unity and the indivisible character [of these rights]. These are topics very close to the heart of Benedict XVI.”

Vatican watchers combed Pope Benedict’s remarks for World Day of Peace Jan. 1 for clues to his anticipated visit to the U.N. His formal speech when Mary Ann Glendon, the new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, presented her credentials also provides insight into his primary message for the “community of nations.”

Nations begin with families, he emphasized.

“Where can young people gradually learn to savor the genuine taste of peace better than the original nest which nature provides for them? The language of the family is the language of peace,” said the pope.

He stressed, “Consequently, whoever, even unknowingly circumvents the institution of the family undermines peace in the entire community, the nation and international [relations], since he weakens what is in effect, the primary agency of peace.”

In this regard, the papal message will directly call the U.N. to clean its own house. Specific indictments against abortion as a “right” are certain. Other assaults on the family include the U.N.’s defense of same-sex unions as part of the “human rights” package. The offenses against the family, “the original nest,” make true global peace unattainable.
In his most recent encyclical, Salvi Spe, Pope Benedict XVI speaks of the “community-oriented” vision which builds up the world, and a “guarantee of law and of living in a juridically ordered society.”

Most poignant will be the pope’s call for religious freedom throughout the world. On Wednesday he praised America for its peaceful model of secularism that does not forbid religious debate in public but permits various faith traditions to worship in peace.

The brutal kidnapping and execution before Easter of the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, Iraq, Paulos Faraj Rahho, is still a fresh wound for the Holy See. For this reason, Vatican observers expect a redoubled emphasis on religious freedom. And some lines of thought from Benedict’s now famous 2006 “Regensburg address” that challenged Islam to a discussion of faith and reason will be found in tomorrow’s remarks. Images of religious intolerance and the crisis in Tibet may not be mentioned by name, but its echoes will be clearly understood by all.

This teaching pope will outline the relationship of faith and reason: Reason without faith devolves into an avaricious materialism, he says. Yet, fervent faith without reason leads to the violent fanaticism that tears at the Middle East. Benedict has spoken against the intransigent religious intolerance in the Islamic world. Some see the pontiff’s visit to Ground Zero in New York, site of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, as his acknowledgement of Islamic violence against Americans.

A final thought for U.N. is expected to be the same as to the U.S., a hope in Christ as Lord and a call to a genuine solidarity of humankind, based on the gospel command to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.”