Pope Francis yesterday delivered an address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, as is the pope’s custom at the beginning of each New Year. It provides a snapshot of the Vatican’s view of the state of the world, and is closely read by those looking at what the Holy See plans to focus on in the year ahead.
The Pope linked his reflections by the common thread of rejection, which along with peace, he told the diplomats, was a major part of the Nativity story. “Rejection is an attitude we all share,” says Francis. “It makes us see our neighbour not as a brother or sister to be accepted, but as unworthy of our attention, a rival, or someone to be bent to our will. This is the mindset which fosters that “throwaway culture” which spares nothing and no one: nature, human beings, even God himself. It gives rise to a humanity filled with pain and constantly torn by tensions and conflicts of every sort.”
Alongside the personal dimension of rejection comes what he calls “a culture of rejection which severs the deepest and most authentic human bonds, leading to the breakdown of society and spawning violence and death.” As a painful example, Francis points to the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris last week, arguing that religious fundamentalism is the result of “the throwaway culture being applied to God”. Says Francis: “Religious fundamentalism, even before it eliminates human beings by perpetrating horrendous killings, eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological pretext.”
The Pope turns to other examples across the world of brutality which discards the vulnerable: the Boko Haram kidnapping of young girls in Nigeria and the slaughter of innocent children in Pakistan; people-trafficking; internecine wars in Africa, as well as the “dramatic theatre of combat” in Ukraine; the spread of “fundamentalist terrorism” in Iraq and Syria; the rape of women; rising numbers of refugees; as well as the less visible “hidden exiles” within wealthy cultures — the elderly, handicapped, and unemployed. Even the family itself is considered disposable, the Pope notes, remarking on the low birthrate in many countries, “thanks to the spread of an individualistic and self-centred culture which severs human bonds and leads to a dramatic fall in birth rates, as well as legislation which benefits various forms of cohabitation rather than adequately supporting the family for the welfare of society as a whole.”
Addressing these concerns, the Pope called on the world to protect the Christians and others fleeing the conflicts in the Middle East:
Here, in your presence, I appeal to the entire international community, as I do to the respective governments involved, to take concrete steps to bring about peace and to protect all those who are victims of war and persecution, driven from their homes and their homeland. In a letter written shortly before Christmas, I sought to express my personal closeness and the promise of my prayers to all the Christian communities of the Middle East. Theirs is a precious testimony of faith and courage, for they play a fundamental role as artisans of peace, reconciliation and development in the civil societies of which they are a part. A Middle East without Christians would be a marred and mutilated Middle East! In urging the international community not to remain indifferent in the face of this situation, I express my hope that religious, political and intellectual leaders, especially those of the Muslim community, will condemn all fundamentalist and extremist interpretations of religion which attempt to justify such acts of violence.
He also called for a change in attitudes towards migrants fleeing situations of conflict:
One consequence of the situations of conflict just described is the flight of thousands of persons from their homeland. At times they leave not so much in search of a better future, but any future at all, since remaining at home can mean certain death. How many persons lose their lives during these cruel journeys, the victims of unscrupulous and greedy thugs? I raised this issue during my recent visit to the European Parliament, where I insisted that “we cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery” (Address to the European Parliament, Strasbourg, 25 November 2014). Then too there is the alarming fact that many immigrants, especially in the Americas, are unaccompanied children, all the more at risk and in need of greater care, attention and protection.
Often coming without documents to strange lands whose language they do not speak, migrants find it difficult to be accepted and to find work. In addition to the uncertainties of their flight, they have to face the drama of rejection. A change of attitude is needed on our part, moving from indifference and fear to genuine acceptance of others. This of course calls for “enacting adequate legislation to protect the rights of… citizens and to ensure the acceptance of immigrants” (ibid.). I thank all those who, even at the cost of their lives, are working to assist refugees and immigrants, and I urge states and international organizations to make every effort to resolve these grave humanitarian problems and to provide the immigrants’ countries of origin with forms of aid which can help promote their social and political development and settle their internal conflicts, which are the chief cause of this phenomenon. “We need to take action against the causes and not only the effects” (ibid.). This will also enable immigrants to return at some point to their own country and to contribute to its growth and development.
The Pope also turned to his own experiences of the light shining in the darkness, not least the inter-religious peace and understanding he saw on his trips to Albania and Turkey, as well as Jordan, and in the historic restoration of Cuba-US ties which he brokered and the US’s decision to close Guantánamo Bay.
Lastly, Francis looked ahead to a new Climate Change Agreement, which will be preceded by his first mainly-authored encyclical, on ecology, expected in March.
This is likewise my own hope-filled prayer for this new year, which, for that matter, will see the continuation of two significant processes: the drawing up of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, with the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals, and the drafting of a new Climate Change Agreement. The indispensable presupposition of all these is peace, which, even more than an end to all wars, is the fruit of heartfelt conversion.