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VATICAN Weakening democracy and freedom is worrying, Pope Francis tells ambassadors

In his annual meeting with the diplomatic corps, Francis condemned Iran’s executions, calling for respect for women’s dignity. He also appealed for peace in Myanmar, Jerusalem and the South Caucasus and harmony on the Korean Peninsula. He also expressed hope that provisional agreement with China will benefit “the life of the Catholic Church” in that country.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis this morning held the traditional New Year’s meeting with the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See in the Hall of the Blessings in the Vatican.

In his address, the pontiff said that “It is a source of concern that, in many parts of the world, there is a weakening of democracy and of the breadth of freedom that it enables, albeit with all the limitations of any human system.”

Francis went on to speak about the wounds of today’s world, and the lack of respect for life, citing as an example the death penalty, “as is the case in these days in Iran, following the recent demonstrations demanding greater respect for the dignity of women.”

Two men, Mohammad Mahdi Karami and Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini, were executed last Saturday, bringing to four the number of young people put to death for events related to the ongoing wave of protests.

For the central thread of his speech, Pope Francis turned to Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris, which identified truth, justice, solidarity and freedom as the four indispensable pillars for truly building peace.

Citing the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, the pontiff spoke again about the war in Ukraine, noting that “the third world war is taking place in a globalized world, [. . .] whose effects are felt in entire regions, also outside of Europe, due to its repercussions in the areas of energy and food production”.

With the nuclear threat again hanging over our heads, he said that “the world once more feels fear and anguish. Here I can only reaffirm that the possession of atomic weapons is immoral,” because nuclear weapons make us all losers. For this reason, he expressed concern about the stalled negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme, hoping that negotiations will resume.

For the Holy Father, “The current conflict in Ukraine has made all the more evident the crisis that has long affected the multilateral system;” however, today, “It is not a matter of creating coalitions, but of providing opportunities for everyone to be partners in dialogue.”

All this is made more difficult by “attempts to impose a single way of thinking, which hinders dialogue and marginalizes those who see things differently. There is a risk of drifting into what more and more appears as an ideological totalitarianism that promotes intolerance towards those who dissent from certain positions claimed to represent ‘progress’, but in fact would appear to lead to an overall regression of humanity, with the violation of freedom of thought and freedom of conscience.”

For Francis, “Peace requires before all else the defense of life, a good that today is jeopardized not only by conflicts, hunger and disease, but all too often even in the mother’s womb, through the promotion of an alleged ‘right to abortion’. No one, however, can claim rights over the life of another human being, especially one who is powerless and thus completely defenceless.”

Looking at the many open wounds in today’s world, Pope Francis highlighted several in the Middle East and Asia.

On Syria he said that “rebirth of that country must come about through needed reforms, including constitutional reforms, [. . .] ensuring that the international sanctions imposed do not affect the daily life of a people that has already suffered so much.”

Lamenting the rising violence between Palestinians and Israelis, the pontiff expressed hope that Jerusalem will once again regain its “vocation” as “a location and a symbol of encounter and peaceful coexistence,” and that “the authorities of the State of Israel and those of the State of Palestine can recover the courage and determination to dialogue directly”.

Speaking about the South Caucasus, where the blockade of the Lachin corridor has reignited tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia,  the pope urged the parties “to respect the ceasefire”, and release military and civilian prisoners, which would be “an important step towards a much-desired peace agreement.”

In Yemen, the truce worked out last October is still holding, “yet many civilians continue to die because of mines”.

The pope expressed his concern about the conflict in Myanmar, which will soon enter its third year. “I invite the international community to work to concretize the processes of reconciliation and I urge all the parties involved to undertake anew the path of dialogue, in order to restore hope to the people of that beloved land.”

Likewise, despite renewed tensions between the two Koreas, he expressed “hope that the good will and commitment to concord will not diminish, for the sake of achieving greatly-desired peace and prosperity for the entire Korean people.”

Among the diplomatic initiatives undertaken by the Holy See in the past year, the pontiff mentioned the renewal of the provisional agreement on episcopal appointments, agreed with the People’s Republic of China in 2018. “It is my hope,” Francis said, “that this collaborative relationship can increase, for the benefit of the life of the Catholic Church and that of the Chinese people.”

Finally, he noted that “Peace also calls for the universal recognition of religious freedom. It is troubling that people are being persecuted simply because they publicly profess their faith and in many countries religious freedom is limited. About a third of the world’s population lives under these conditions.”




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